Save on a House with Seasonal Buying

Are you in the market for a house? If so, it’s important to be aware of seasonal variations. In my book on wealth, I discuss how time shifting purchases and activities outside of peak areas can lead to significant savings. In the case of buying a house, this means buying in wintertime.

Take a look at the following graph from Schwab:

seasonal fluctuation of house prices

If you look at the blue line, you’ll see that while the overall trend since 2012 is rising house prices, within each year there there are predictable ups and downs. House prices are highest during the summer months, and correspondingly hit a nadir in December-January. This makes sense. Fewer people are actively shopping for homes in the winter, given adverse weather.

Even though this trend is well-documented, a smart shopper can still use this as an opportunity to save on buying a house. The big downside is that sellers know about this trend as well and delay putting the houses on the market until summer. This means that the selection in winter may be suboptimal. You may not find your perfect dream house in the winter, but the sellers that do list in this time may be more desperate for a quick sale.


Lifehacking Tips – Easy Way to Split PDFs

I’m a techie at heart, and people like us are generally lazy, always on the lookout for shortcuts to make work and life more efficient. This post is part of a series on various neat tricks that I’ve picked up along the way. Most of them have something to do with either technology or gadgets.

I had a quandary at work today. Over the years I’ve accumulated many sheets of paper. Some of them are napkin scribblings by senior doctors eager to teach a pertinent point regarding a patient on rounds. Others are snippets of magazines and journals. I have a smattering of tax forms mailed to me from years past. Yet others are rare printouts of algorithms and flowsheets so obscure that they are forever lost in the ether of the internet.

As I wrote in my book on wealth, part of my life goal is to minimize the number of possessions to the bare essential minimum. As a result, every so often I do a massive cleaning of my paper documents, digitizing and then trashing them. I could not have done this without technology and the cloud, which hosts digitized versions of my paper documents, keeping them secure and accessible from just about anywhere.

Previously, I would sometimes take a snapshot of the file with my phone camera and then work with the jpeg image. This is easy to do, but left much to be desired in terms of quality. Lighting, shadowing from the camera, and background objects frequently intruded. The resolution wasn’t that great, even with the latest camera models, and lugging around a DSLR just for this purpose is impractical.

Since I was at work, I chose to use the work scanner, which made high-resolution, high-fidelity copies of my files but saved them as separate pages of one large PDF format. Argh! I obviously didn’t want to save one massive mishmash of a file which contained tax information, journal articles, napkin scribble, and SI models. I was at work, so I couldn’t use free plugins from Foxit or other third party software to break apart the file. What to do?

Thankfully, Google Chrome came to the rescue. Long a favourite tool of hackers everywhere, Chrome has invaded office workplaces simply because it can be installed offline/standalone without needing administrator mode. It’s faster than IE and supports Netflix, PDFs, and Flash video straight out of the box. So pervasive was its reach that sysadmins at my hospital gave up and made it part of the default applications for every computer.

Ok, you’re eagerly waiting for the content of this post – how to use Chrome to split apart large PFDs. First, open the pdf with Chrome. You can right click on the pdf file and “open with” Chrome, or you can open (CTRL+O) directly from Chrome, or drag the pdf file onto the tab menu on top of Chrome.

Next select the print (CTRL+P) option. On the left hand side you’ll see a destinations section. Below there is a “Change” button. Click that and select Save as PDF.



Now you can enter which pages you want to create as your new pdf file. You can write “1-11”, “1,2,3”, or even skip certain pages like so: “1-3, 6-7, 11”.


Choose save/print and you’ll be prompted with where to save your new split pdf file. Repeat for the rest of the sections.






Voting With Your Feet

In time for tax season, many of us are probably grumbling about how much tax we have to pay. Sure, the headline rates for the US may not seem all that impressive, but when you add up state, local, payroll, and federal tax all together, the marginal rate can be in excess of 50%! That’s higher than the top rate in the UK. On top of that, we don’t even get free health care, efficient public transportation, or cheap schooling. Think of having to pay out of pocket for those mandatory things as an extra tax on the little guy.

Could it be then that the US is the most heavily taxed country in the world? Something to think about for sure.

One example from recent times is the St. Louis Rams moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles. While some employees will enjoy the weather, others may bemoan the pay cut that they’ve just received from the change in state tax systems. That’s not to mention the higher cost of living in California. Strangely enough, so many people try to live and work in California (high supply), compared to the cold and dreary Midwest, that salaries for comparable professions are higher in the Midwest even before cost of living adjustments.

It’s no surprise then that I’m planning to leave California as soon as I am able.

In any case, while we could stay and try to fight the man through lobbying or voting, it’s hard for a single person to make a difference. That’s where we can vote with our feet. Just like Tiger Woods did and what Phil Mickelson pondered about doing, we can leave high tax locales and move to low (or no) tax ones. The name of this game is geographic arbitrage, which I go into detail in my book on wealth.



Save on College in the EU


Have you looked at the cost of school these days? Tuition for American universities keeps on rising. According to Collegedata, in 2015-2016, total costs are projected to hit $24,061 per year for in-state schools and $47,831 for year in a private school. For the price of four years of schooling, we could get a Ferrari or be a nomad traveling around the world for a decade!

What are some ways to get around being saddled with student loans into our adult lives or even retirement? One option is to win merit scholarships by being selective and judicious about which schools we apply to. Of course, not everyone can win these scholarships. This is where we need to think outside of the box.

In my book, I describe how much more affordable college is in other countries. Take Germany for example, which has waived all tuition fees at its universities.

More than 4,600 US students are fully enrolled at Germany universities, an increase of 20% over three years. At the same time, the total student debt in the US has reached $1.3 trillion (£850 billion).

Each semester, Hunter pays a fee of €111 ($120) to the Technical University of Munich (TUM), one of the most highly regarded universities in Europe, to get his degree in physics.

Included in that fee is a public transportation ticket that enables Hunter to travel freely around Munich.

Health insurance for students in Germany is €80 ($87) a month, much less than what Amy would have had to pay in the US to add him to her plan.

“The healthcare gives her peace of mind,” says Hunter. “Saving money of course is fantastic for her because she can actually afford this without any loans.”

To cover rent, mandatory health insurance and other expenses, Hunter’s mother sends him between $6,000-7,000 each year.

At his nearest school back home, the University of South Carolina, that amount would not have covered the tuition fees. Even with scholarships, that would have totalled about $10,000 a year. Housing, books and living expenses would make that number much higher.

Even outside of tuition-free Germany, EU schools are quite cheap in comparison to American ones. Don’t worry about competitiveness. So few American students actually apply, and the schools enjoy increased diversity so much that they reserve spots for foreign students.

Other options exist in Asia, such as the Monbukagakusho in Japan and a variety of options in China. In fact, I just recently read about the Schwarzman scholarship, which is new (just admitted their inaugural class) but gives awardees a full ride to arguably the most prestigious university in China – Tsinghua.

All in all, the American higher education system currently doesn’t serve its students well. Yes, the education is world-class, but the costs are such that they impose severe burdens on graduates for years after. For comparison, Switzerland has an elegant system of vocational training even for white collar professions like banking. Having graduates with work experience, contacts in industry, and the skills that businesses need has led to an astounding 3% youth unemployment rate.


When Housing Becomes Unaffordable

A friend recently sent me an article detailing how Seattle has a major homeless problem (with the accompanying scourges of drug use, violence, and property crimes). It’s definitely sad to see. I’m intimately familiar with the growing 21th century phenomenon of unaffordable housing, having grown up in the SF Bay Area, which dealt with these issues decades before Seattle (and Portland). Realistically, I anticipate that the forces driving unaffordability will only get worse over time. Real estate in downtown cores of desirable cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, and London, is priced as an investment asset rather than a place for locals to live. There’s just no way middle class workers can compete with large pensions, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, and billionaire tycoons for property.

What can we do? Certainly economists have developed ways to combat homelessness through subsidies and affordable housing mandates. Others seek to curb foreign investment in housing or extract large taxes from absentee/nonresident homeowners. Those strategies will only go so far if we don’t address the fundamental issues of inequality. There’s simply too much wealth sloshing around looking for things to invest in. Nevertheless, I try to stay away from politics on this blog, instead preferring to approach things from an microeconomic perspective. As individuals, we’re unlikely to have much effect on changing things at a larger systems level, so all we can do is adapt, adjust, and try to survive.

How can we do that? Check out my book on wealth for tips on how to make enough money to buy that expensive house, how to structure the mortgage, as well as learn lifehacking tricks for how to compensate for expensive housing.