What follows is a rough outline for a possible rational financial planning sequence that was inspired by some other recent discussion here. I'm not sure how useful this would be to how many people. I know there are some LessWrongers who would enjoy and learn from this; but I don't know if there are 5, 50, or 500. If you'd like to read it, let me know. If 500 people tell me they can't wait for this, I'll probably write it. If 5 people say maybe they'll glance at it, then probably not.
Part I: Preliminaries:
The inside and outside views
Interpolation is reliable; extrapolation isn't
Part II: This is important:
- Why to save for retirement
- Dying alone in a hole: the story of Jane.
- Why compound interest is cool
- 65-year old you will not want to live like a grad student
- 65-year old you will not want to work like 35-year old you
- Existential risk does not defeat personal risk
- Existential success does not defeat personal risk
Part III: Analyzing Your Life
(This section needs a lot more fleshing out, and thought)
Personal satisfaction and happiness: do what you love, and adjust your financial expectations accordingly
How much do you need to retire?
When do you want to retire?
How much do you need to live on today?
Big expenses you need to plan for
College the best financial decision you'll ever make or the worst?
Choosing a career: what is your comparative advantage?
equity vs salary; steady singles or home run hitter
employee or owner
when to change jobs
Save more tomorrow
Part IV: The Practical How-to Advice:
Credit cards: the good, the bad, and the criminal
Where to save (tax advantaged accounts)
The importance of fees
401K matching: the highest return you'll ever see
What to invest in (index funds)
stock vs bond funds
domestic vs. international
target retirement funds
Comic books are not a retirement plan (but a comic book store might be)
Avoiding hucksters and doomsayers
What if the shit hits the fan?
Can smart, rational investors beat the market?
Good debt; bad debt
Cars and other expensive purchases
Cutting out the middleman: making money on Craig's list, amazon, eBay and AirB&B
Buying a house
Renting vs. owning a house; rental parity
Your Spouse: the most important financial decision you'll ever make
Diamonds are forever, but most women would rather have a house.
One or two incomes?
Live longer, be happier, get married
If there are any topics you'd like to see covered that aren't here (wills? lawyers? the financial press?), let me know. Similarly, if you think there's a section that doesn't belong and should be dropped, let me know that too.
One caveat: while some sections are fairly generic, others will be very U.S. centric. The most specific advice will not be applicable to non-U.S. citizens and residents. That does limit the audience, but there's not too much I can do about that. Perhaps if it's successful I can seek out co-authors to do UK, Canadian, or other country editions.
A question for people who are interested in financial planning material: If this were available as a complete book (electronic and paper) today, how likely do you think it is that you would buy this book instead of one of the other available books on the subject? What would you pay for such a book? If this were available as both a book and a sequence on LessWrong, how might that change your decision?
For now, this discussion thread is just a minimum viable product (MVP) to find out if a sequence is worth the time it would take me to complete. If the MVP pans out, I'll write and post one or two of these chapters to further gauge interest. If the MVP doesn't look promising, I'll drop it and move on to my next book idea.
What's next, a Rational (tm) Work Out sequence? A Rational (tm) Dating sequence? A Rational (tm) Build Your Own PC sequence?
There are plenty of important topics for which a reputed and sourced guide by a trusted authority with a community stamp of approval would be helpful, but the most efficient way to achieve that would be for regulars to seek out established and reputed guides online (since rational in this context translates simply to 'good'/'efficient'), then link to them in some "guide repository thread".
That being said, when proven high quality content providers on LW choose to write about anything, people will want to read it. Do you count yourself among that reference class?
A non-rationality sequence about financial planning, tailored to US citizens (with topics such as "401K matching") and a few paragraphs about "salary negotiation" and the like, written by a newcomer with unknown credentials in the field, labeled as "Rational" - the prior for "such a sequence is likely to increase the signal/noise ratio" goes lower and lower. Especially in the presence of easily accessible guides such as e.g. "Money 101" on CNNMoney.
There's something worse than no information, which is unreliable information from uncertain sources. Knowing that you know nothing versus falsely believing that you know something, and all that.
Those would both be very useful, especially the former one.
No. This kills the mind.
Liam Rosen's FAQ, i.e. "the sticky" from /fit/, struck me as being an island of reasonableness in an ocean of bad advice and broscience.
Filtering through the bullshit when reading something written by someone with unknown epistemic hygiene is tedious. Stuff written by LWers is by no means perfect but usually significantly better.
I was about to comment that I definitely would be interested, because I am quite ignorant about this subject, and feel that I should fix this.
Then I read your comment and realized I had made little effort to actually do research on my own. So the main benefit of such a post would be to make it easy for me to read about it by putting it in a stream of stuff I actually read already, LessWrong. And since you linked to other good resources, this has already been done!
So in conclusion, thanks for the link and the reminder that outside scholarship is important.
Thanks for the link. Those lessons appear ripe for Ankification.
Does your rational advice differ from the common folk wisdom/cargo culting on this topic? And if so, what was your research process?
I suppose that depends completely on which specific "common folk wisdom/cargo culting" you're referring to. Without more details it's impossible to tell.
There is certainly good information out there. There is also a lot of misinformation and outright deception designed to separate investors from their money. A meta-skill is telling the difference between them.
Makes sense. For someone who can't tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, it is no help that both good advice and bad advice is out there. Telling them the difference is useful.
But the problem is: Why should we trust you that the selection of good advice you made is really good?
No offence meant, it's just an observation that many people posting bad advice also believe in what they say, and believe in their ability to tell good advice from bad advice. What evidence is there that they are wrong but you are right?
I would start by writing a post on one of these topics and seeing what the reception is like.
Just to add to this - I would be interested in seeing posts on personal finance. I'm studying for an accounting qualification at the moment, and I'd be (selfishly) pleased to see things relevant to my subject on LW.
Some notes in random order
Professional financial planners don't have much incentive to act in their customers' best interests. Even if they have the knowledge and experience to give good advice, it doesn't necessarily mean they actually do.
The fact that you have a subsection entitled "Diamonds are forever, but most women would rather have a house." as part of the "Your Spouse" section suggests that you are assuming the reader's spouse is/will be a woman, which in turn suggests that you are assuming your reader is a man. Perhaps this is intentional and you really do want to write a book on financial advice for men, but I suspect it's actually an instance of a common failure mode (especially since you use "Jane" as an example in an earlier chapter). So if you're worried about potentially alienating some of your readership, you might want to rethink the title (and perhaps the content) of that section.
I was wondering if anyone would pick up on that. :-) For details you'll just have to wait for that chapter. However, I will say that just as there is financial advice specific to U.S. citizens, there is also financial advice specific to various genders, sexual orientations, and family units. That section is aimed primarily at heterosexual, monogamous couples since they're the ones who spend big bucks on rings. And note that they really both spend on this: the initial purchase may come out of the man's bank account, but it's the couple's net assets that are reduced post-marriage.
"Jane" is a pseudonym for a specific woman whose story is I think very informative for the target audience.
I would be pretty interested in seeing financial advice specifically aimed at women. Many women seem to rely on their partners/husbands to support their lifestyle to a greater degree than I think is really wise, given the divorce rate. I've seen women who are almost certainly smarter than me doing this, and I'm always a bit surprised. I've also seen it go wrong - for example a woman I know is getting divorced and is going to have trouble finding work as she hasn't worked for over a decade, due to relying on her husband.
On the other hand, a well-planned divorce could be an important part of a financial plan. "Early Retirement Extreme Extreme" -- get retired within a week! :D
Let me guess, "Jane" waited too long to sign up for cryonics.
Only say 'rational' when you can't eliminate the word.
I'm surprised by all the discouraging comments. If what you end up writing isn't good enough, chances are that the highest-voted comment will say so (and why). So I support the suggestion that you write a post and consider the reception.
That said, I can't help but notice that you've so far ignored the questions about why you consider yourself qualified.
Really? Ah, you're new around here. This is fairly common.
Criticism of posted work is common, but I don't have the impression that discouraging people from doing and posting the work is particularly common.
My observations suggest that criticism in general is common.
I would read the sequence if it is not 90% filler feel-good material but mainly hard data and formulae.
If the sequence is sufficiently good I would consider buying the book for less than $15.
I don't need another Mr. Money Mustache guide but would very much like something solid.
I would love to read this! This seems extremely high value.
The other commenters who are saying that this information is available elsewhere have a point, but not, I think, a particularly strong one. There's nothing wrong with explaining something that someone else has already explained. Some pointers to the existing literature might be helpful, though.
Indeed pretty much all the practical advice is available elsewhere. I will particularly recommend Eric Tyson's Personal Finances for Dummies. Anyone who doesn't want to wait for me to finish (or even start) should go read that now.
What I'm mulling over is two-fold:
Is there value to be had by talking about these topics in the language of epistemic and instrumental rationality?
Are there topics that need to be addressed for the LessWrong audience that aren't covered in the usual literature? For instance, a mainstream audience probably doesn't need to be convinced that they should still save for retirement despite existential risks.
I would personally be interested in a discussion of unusual financial decisions in the pursuit of unusual goals, somewhat along the lines of Early Retirement Extreme - for example, how does your financial outlook change if you don't plan on buying a house or having a family, if you're willing to invest a large percentage of your income rather than spend it, if you're optimizing for efficient charity, etc.
Not buying a house is actually well treated in many good books on financial planning. Indeed, that's one of the signals you can use to distinguish the good from the bad. Good books rationally discuss the upsides and downsides of home ownership, and who it is and is not appropriate for. Bad books tell everyone to buy a home (sometimes more than one) and make provably false statements like "home prices never go down" or "if you rent, you're just throwing money away."
Not having children just means everything gets a lot easier. You have a lot more money to play with without kids, but it shouldn't change most of your financial practices.
Optimizing for maximal charitable donations: now that's an interesting one I have not run across in the standard texts. I'd have to research that. One thing I would hope to gain by posting chapters here first would be harnessing the collective knowledge of LessWrongers who have thought about topics like to improve the content. I don't have a lot to say about optimizing for charitable donations, but I know some other folks here do.
Elharo, I'm interested in reading your sequence topics in inverse proportion to how usual it is to find them in the literature.
So I'd love to hear your thoughts on spouses, number of incomes and other topics with magnitudes ranging 7 to eight figures that no one talks about (to my knowledge).
I would not love that much read about compound interest, tax advantages etc...
So here is the interesting thing. While I agree with others that you should optimize for hard data and equations, I don't think you should select for hard data and equations, because the topics were more hard data exist are exactly those in which your efforts would be unnecessary. But then again, you'll be shot with all the arrows people have been shooting me in many of my longer texts here, where I usually delve into territory where adjacent data exists, and make extrapolations from that data into unexplored territory.
As I see it you have 4 avenues:
1)Write about stuff where hard data already exists and be counterfactually irrelevant, have a lot of work, and be mildly praised.
2)Write about the areas where available content is not a lot, and be downshot by many who will claim you have no data to back your advice. On the other hand you will be counterfactually relevant and praised by a small majority.
3)Write all of it, and be downshot because of the non-backed parts, and downshot on the backed parts for re-writing what is already out there. Newcomers, and the small majority above will still like it, but hardcore LW won't.
4)Be awesome, and be praised by your awesomeness.
If you evaluate 4 as out of the way, for whichever reason, I would go for 2, and be as far away from 3 as I can, because it is frustrating.
Also, about the book, I wouldn't buy it even for $1.00 . Nowadays I'll only buy a book if I know I want to mark it with a pen, read it outside after my cell runs out of bateries or if the author is one of my heroes.
We are drowning in an information ocean, and I am firmly convinced that for the same reason I don't pay for alcohol because I know I drink so rarely that I can afford to drink only when somehow I'm being given drinks, I never (99%) need to pay for written knowledge again. Not because I don't read, but because with a large certainty, everything I want to read has an equivalent (itself included) available online, instantly, and free.
Please write the sequence so that each article independently presents one idea (or one group of ideas), and thus can be rated according to how well the idea in the article is presented.
I hate articles which are just an "introduction" to something that is supposed to be written in the second part (which sometimes also is just an introduction to the third part). It is OK if an article contains hyperlinks to previous articles, but it is bad if it references unexisting (at given moment) future articles.
Also, many self-help books start with 100 pages of motivation, followed by an advice that could be expressed using 5 sentences but is expanded to another 100 pages. I am not going to criticize this at books; there could be a good reason for this. For example, the customers prefer thick books, because their heuristics say that thick books contain more information; and if you don't conform to their biases, they will simply not buy your book. -- But this is a blog, we don't need to fill a given amount of pages just to make a customer happy. You can get directly to the point.
As others have pointed out, there are lots of other resources out there that contain this information. I still think it would be useful to have here in one condensed guide, but that suggests it may be worth the time to find references / links to other people who say the same things, as well as pointing out people with serious, reasoned disagreements. If you say "index funds are a good idea," that's n=1. If you say "index funds are a good idea, are recommended by several Nobel Prize-winning economists, including local favorite Daniel Kahneman, and have outperformed X% of mutual funds over the last Y decades," that a much larger n and a much more serious and valuable recommendation.
In particular, it may be valuable to discuss the application of rationality to investing- that is, Ben Graham's idea of Mr. Market, Warren Buffett / Charlie Munger, etc.
Would be interested in parts of this. Start with whatever you think you're best at writing that doesn't require earlier material and let's have comments. Some things I want to discuss and hear discussed:
I would feel right about paying $0-$15 depending on my mood to read a book on this sort of material written by someone who wrote the above post if I had that option soon after it was available without reactions from other readers. With bad reactions, $0. With no reactions after enough time that there should have been good reactions, $0-5. With good reactions, $5-40-200+ depending on content and reactions. I think more good would come of discussion on well-written initial posts than of a long monologue.
BRK buys stocks that Warren Buffet likes. So, you're hedged against anyone one company failing, but you're not hedged against Buffet's stock picking algorithm suddenly failing more globally.
I'm considering a chapter on Buffet (and Peter Lynch). More research is needed but I am not convinced that Buffet really is the super investor he seems to be at first glance. Some economists have made plausible arguments that his outsized returns are due to factors other than his stock-picking acumen.
However if I'm wrong and Buffet really is the superinvestor most people think he is, I'd be even more worried about Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett is in his 80s. What evidence do we have that his successors are equally skilled?
I like the idea, but I think it has been done before on other blogs. Mr. Money Mustache and Early Retirement Extreme come to mind, which were written by a (now) retired software engineer and a physicist, respectively. Their advice may bear repeating, but I do not think I would purchase a book on the subject. There are so many free resources online; it seems financially unwise to spend more on a book.
But may I ask, who are you, and what are your qualifications to speak on this subject?
As for who I am, google my username, and I'll pop right up. I've got a plausible record of writing non-fiction books enough people want to read to make a decent enough living. I don't claim to be a financial wizard, but I don't think you need to be one either. (I'm about 50% convinced there are no such wizards. Some people do beat the market, but it's not apparent that they do so through enhanced skill or knowledge.)
The basics of personal finance are well established and have been for about 40 years since John Bogle invented the index fund. The main skill you need to succeed is enough epistemic rationality to distinguish the truthsayers from the hustlers and enough instrumental rationality to maintain the necessary financial discipline and plans.
Perhaps the existing content in books, blogs, and elsewhere is sufficient, and this sequence is not needed. Certainly it's not needed by everyone. But I am somewhat shocked at what I've heard lately from some LessWrongers about their own financial plans--seriously, I did not think saving for retirement was very controversial--and that got me thinking that the good information that's out there is not reaching everyone it needs to reach, or that it's being drowned in a sea of snake oil and hucksterism. We may have been spending too much time thinking about improbable events with high expected payoffs. Perhaps it's worthwhile to spend some time thinking about probable events with medium expected payoffs.
My goal is more aimed at normal retirement planning. This book is for people who don't get a kick out of seeing just how little money they can live on, and who don't live in Detroit or other areas with exceptionally low costs of living. The Mr. Money Mustache and Early Retirement Extreme type blogs are pretty solid as far as investment advice goes; but in terms of earning and spending, they're advocating a lifestyle the vast majority of U.S. citizens would never want to consider.
It seems to me that, especially for an LW audience, an important part of Part II should be an examination not only of whether to save for retirement, but of how much. And that's got to consider how much real benefit you get from any given amount of spending now. And the MMM and ERE guys aren't just advocating the lifestyles they do because they get a kick from spending less money (though I think that's part of it) but because they reckon the tradeoff of a less spendy lifestyle in exchange for an earlier and/or more comfortable retirement is a good one. You or your readers may well disagree, but it's a question as worth asking as "can I just use the Singularity as my retirement plan?" which I see you have in there.
MMM-level unspendiness is well within the range of lifestyles LW readers would (I think) be willing to consider. (It's easier if you have a fairly high income, and many LW readers either have or expect to have in the future; it's easier if you have a lower discount factor, which I think LW readers tend to; and there are LW participants who give away the majority of their income, which is surely harder for most people than saving it.)
I would read this on LW, but would not buy it as a book.
I would be especially interested in subjects under part IV, or equally interested in a link to another source on this information with some significant vetting.
I'm currently in a situation (and I expect many other LW readers to be) where I am still a student but won't be for much longer. I know how to live rather cheaply and not make life-destroying decisions, but I don't know how to open a different kind of bank account, buy any kind of stocks, or appropriately munchkin the rules on student loans.
Brief thoughts (some redundancy with what others have said):
Do you have a secret identity OP?
Like a lot of people, I'm interested.
By the way, the word is' optimal', not 'rational' financial planning :-)
"Rational financial planning" < "optimal financial planning" < "financial planning".
Except I really doubt it will be genuinely optimal (nothing against elharo, I'd say say this about any financial planning guide). At least "rational" doesn't seem like an obvious false promise. It reads to me as a reasonable claim about procedure ("my approach to financial planning draws on tools of the sort LWers talk about") rather than an incredible claim about outcomes ("this is the best possible way to do financial planning").
See this and this (and this) :)
I don't think calling it "rational financial planning" is a great idea. All I'm saying is that it's better than calling it "optimal financial planning". It's probably a good thing to replace "rational" with "optimal" if you have good reason to believe your approach is in fact optimal. But financial planning is a game of such complexity and with so many possible moves that it would be the height of hubris to regard your approach as an actual optimum.
ETA: Ah, I see this in one of your links:
Fair enough. Disregard my whining.
Great food for thought. My rather wealthy grandparents were much more frugal than most of today's twentysomethings.
Interested too. And will be particularly useful if consider topics which are not easy to find in other sources: giving, x-risk, disruptive technologies, cryonics.
Having just discovered Mr. Money Mustache's blog, I would be interested on discussion concerning early retirement.
I did read your comment that the lifestyle this blogger advocates is unrealistic for many people, but it seems that he has a good counterargument w/r/t hedonic adaptation--i.e., we may think that living frugally will make us unhappier, but in fact, it likely will not, and vice versa--and preferences changing over time.
I would assume that most of our ideas about the stress of living frugally come from situations in which people are forced to live frugally. Choosing to live frugally is a whole different game, and probably not all that stressful when you have tens to hundreds of thousands in assets to absorb bumps along the way. In fact I could see one deriving lots of enjoyment from mentally gamifying it.
Exactly. I actually first thought Mr. Money Mustache was almost a crackpot, but I think he has a good point here. His advice on making frugality a habit and part of your identity, combined with the points from this paper on how to get the most happiness for the buck and our knowledge of the hedonic threadmill/adaptation, strikes me as very instrumentally rational, despite how unconventional it seems at first glance (very munchkin-esque actually).
At the same time, it seems so right that I'm a little suspicious, although maybe that's a result of a status quo bias or the incorrigible consumerist part of my mind finding it unbelievable that I wouldn't be happier with a few more gadgets and more money.
If you're going to narrow your focus, it might be valuable to focus on places where the LW demographic would want to do something different than most people because of their different goals (how does optimizing for donations or signing up for cryonics change your financial strategy?), and/or where the advice of experts is incorrect.
I'm interested in part 4, and would likely pay $5-10 for a digital book that contains it, so long as it were favorably reviewed by other members of this community. (Other guides to this exist, I'm sure, but I'd rather pay $5 than spend the time to track down a good one.) I would probably skip part 1 entirely and skim parts 2 and 3 to confirm my impression that it contains nothing new for me.
This looks like it could help very much with instrumental rationality. I would love to read this!
Most interested in Part 3 and below. Already convinced saving is a good idea.
Also, here's a bit of old discussion on the topic I found interesting enough to save.
I would definitely read the sequence. I'm especially interested in How Tos on Investment - the free advice specifically about Investment on Mr. Money Mustache boils down to "Index Funds" and "Here are a bunch of books I read on the topic" as far as I could tell from my admittedly short visits to the site.
If you found (a) co-author(s) in Germany, I would buy the Germany-specific country edition if it's not ridiculously expensive.
He also spoken about rental real estate, and he has an ongoing experiement with microlending.
Thanks - I planned to take a closer look because of the rest of his strategies and lifestyle, but lacked the time. Another reason not to postpone that :-)
You mention a point that is a problem with a lot of these guides: Different national regulations. For example I think Germany doesn't have anything that compares to a 401k.
I'd read this on LW.
I'm interested. I'm also worried that it might not be particularly helpful given my particular obstacles (a "Munchkin your way out of the basement blindfolded without necessarily starting a successful software career" sequence would be awesome), but the general utility seems worth having (and having it on LessWrong would save me the need to search for it elsewhere in the short term).
Would be interested.