Done with taxes!

by phuoc

I just filed my taxes and both Federal & state returns were accepted.  The online filing process was even easier this year compared to last year.  The government accepted the returns within minutes of my submission.  It’s pretty crazy how far home tax preparation has gone.  I used TurboTax but I would think any modern package would get the job done for most people.  I only picked it by virtue of being able to import my information from previous tax years.  I’m glad I got done (relatively) early.  This year I had to wait bit since some tax forms that I needed weren’t released by the IRS until late into the new year.

Many people are intimidated by taxes and doing it by themselves would not even enter their mind.  However, there’s really nothing to be concerned about with these modern software packages and really no need to pay anyone to prepare them for you.  The key is to have all your documents ready (W-2, 1099’s, charitable donation receipts, etc.).  The rest of the process is straight forward with the software walking you through every category.

So what are you waiting for?  Get going and cross filing your taxes off your list!

YTD Return

by phuoc

Speaking of retiring, my retirement account is sitting at -2.5% YTD.  I always thought this year was going to be flat in a sideways range or down.  Comparatively speaking, that’s better than the general market, the NASDAQ excepted.  Klarman says not to compare your performance to the market, i.e. don’t put too much stock in relative performance – think absolute performance, and he has a point.  You should always judge an investment on its own merit.  I hate being down, even if better than the market as a whole.  But since my time horizon is long, I’m still feeling great about the investments that I’m holding.  I do have a large position in cash and that’s OK.  But if things are going to go south, I hope they go big.  I want to do some bargain hunting.  Analysts are calling for a 10% correction, but what do they know?  I’m hoping for a little panic so I can pick up stuff cheap.  Not a big, herd wide panic that will put a halt quickly to everything, but just enough so quality issues become undervalue enough that they’re a good pickup.

Once recent pickup for me has been Target based on the same rationale.  The whole credit hacking debacle really did a number on Target.  I believe their response is right on the money.  They didn’t shy away or make any excuses and accepted responsibility.  The exposure for them should be manageable.  Yet the market beat them up pretty bad, putting them at a new 52 week low.  Even if they can get halfway back, it’ll be a nice return.  In the meantime, I’ll collect my dividends and hold onto a quality retailing company.

Retiring early
How to retire early and spend your days in Maldives.

Retiring early

by phuoc

I’ve had this dream of retiring early.   Perhaps when I reached 30.  At age 24, everything in the world seems possible.  Recently I’ve learned that quite a number of people have actually done it.  Some have done it by age 30 and others by age 38.  One goes by the name of “Mr. Money Moustache“.  The trick to retiring early is to spend less now.  It doesn’t mean to deprive yourself of everything but it does mean figuring out what really matters and what makes you happy.  I knew a guy early on that I suspected has retired early.  In fact, I’m confident of it.  And he was this way.  You just have to figure out how much you’re earning and do what you can to sock as much away into a retirement and separate brokerage account as possible.  The retirement account will allow you the tax deferred growth while the brokerage account will allow you to invest for immediate access should you need it.  And you will at some point when you retire early since tax rules do not allow you to withdraw from a retirement account early unless you make substantially equal periodic withdrawals over your expected life expectancy.  However, you wouldn’t want to tap into that immediately and let it grow tax deferred as long as you can before you begin to do so.

For me, it’s too late to retire at age 30.  But it may not be too late to retire substantially early.  Call it age 50 for now.  Once you do retire though, plan on withdrawing roughly 4% or less of your portfolio per year.  It’s been shown that amount will allow you to have your savings outlast you.  Typically when you do retire, your spending goes down a little bit anyways, regardless of your actual age when you do retire.  Now I just have to convince my wife that we need to spend less!

Chaudhry Aslam and Extra-Judicial Killing

by phuoc

Chaudhry Aslam was Pakistan’s “super cop” and had escaped many attempts on his life.  Recently though, the Taliban succeeded in bringing him down with a bomb.  He was ruthless in pursuing criminals & gangsters and many feared him.  He was however, not without critics.  Many have accused him of human rights violations by purposely engaging suspected criminals in gunfights, killing them and claiming self-defense afterwards.  A recent PBS radio story on Aslam gave me pause.  A human rights activist said there’s never a right time for extrajudicial justice.  Officials though say there is no choice in a society where crime is rampant yet the judiciary is either frightened, corrupt or both.  The question that came into my mind is what does society do in a situation like that?  Do you suspend some human rights for immediate security or do you maintain what due process might remain and run the risk of criminals over running everything?  If you stick to your guns and do what’s right, there may not be a society left after the criminals win.  At least not a society that you would recognize.  If you don’t and play by their rules, there’s a risk that you’ll go down that slippery slope and be as lawless as the criminals.

So what should a society finding itself in this situation to do? Aslam believed he had the answer.  He gave his life for that belief and now his 16 year old son wants to continue in his footsteps.  It’s an interesting dilemma.  What would you do?

Prego Spaghetti Sauce – it’s flavored with meat!

by phuoc

I bought a jar of Prego Flavored With Meat pasta sauce today.  I was in a mood for a good bolognese and was just too lazy to make it from scratch.  I know the jar stuff can’t even come close but if I recall, I had some pretty decent bolognese sauce from a jar when I lived in Paris.  Surely this can’t be much worse.  I was wrong.  At $2 for a 24 oz. jar, it’s certainly good on the wallet.  The 3rd ingredient after tomato puree and diced tomatoes was beef.  That’s a good sign right?  Well, perhaps.  I made some pork chops to serve with my spaghetti and gave this sauce a whirl.  First impression is that I can taste sugar but not the beef.  It’s not a bad sauce… it’s just not a particularly good one.  If I had to rate it, this would be a 2.5/5 for me and I wouldn’t recommend it.

prego_meat

Deleting my Facebook account

by phuoc

I’ve recently decided to delete my Facebook account.  In the past I’ve only deactivated the account, which basically preserves everything for you until you log in again.  This time, I chose the delete option.  It’s eerily similar in the sense that it still gives you two weeks to log into the account and then it’ll be as if nothing as happened.  However, the difference here is that after 2 weeks, your account is permanently deleted and you’ll have to join again as a new member, with a new account name (if someone has already taken yours), etc.  It’s been about 2 days so far.  I’ve been tempted.  Let’s see if I can actually let it go to deletion.  There’s nothing there that I would miss or couldn’t rebuild if I needed it.  I’m just getting to worn out from Facebook, am concerned about privacy on there, and am sick of the drama.  But I suppose only time will tell if I can actually go through with it.

Down to the wire!

by phuoc

I’m getting the house ready for my fiancée to come over and things are down to the wire.  She’s due over Tuesday night.  I have painting to be completed and then final cleaning.  As of yesterday, all the baseboards are in and the walls & ceiling are patched.  They still need to be sanded and the baseboards need to be caulked before painting can begin.  The painter is one site and he has started some of the caulking and prep work for painting.  He tells me that he will finish tomorrow early.  That doesn’t give me a lot of time!  Once he’s done, I’ll spend most of Monday afternoon & evening cleaning up.  And perhaps even some of Tuesday.  Yes, I’m certainly feeling the pressure as I’m leaving for LAX on Tuesday around 2:00 PM to pick her up.  I lost 3 days last week going to New York (which ended up being just a day and a half in the city since the rest of it was spent traveling).  That certainly didn’t help and I’m feeling the pressure.  I don’t like these last minute things at all!

The new iCloud

by phuoc

I just logged into iCloud today and I must say, I like the changes.  It now reflects the new iOS 7 theme.  Gone are the skeuomorphs for Calendar, Contacts, etc. and in is the new flat theme of iOS 7.  The other thing that’s nice is that iWorks (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) are now in the cloud.  The other thing is that once you go full screen, your computer now looks like a Mac, even if you’re on Windows or a Chromebook.  The changes are drastic for some but in the whole I like what I’m seeing.

Cleaning up

by phuoc

I’m back home now pretty much full time.  I have a date when my fiancée will arrive (September 24!) so now it’s all about getting final clean up on the house done so it’s ready for her.  I don’t think it’ll be perfect and we’ll have to do some stuff together but my hope is that I get as much of it done as possible.  I’m taking off for the East Coast for 3 days next week so that will put a hamper on things but I think that I’ll have enough time to get things ready.  It looks messy at home but it’s an illusion – it’s not nearly as bad as it looks.

Once the cleaning is done, then it’s a matter of getting the painters in to paint the walls & ceiling and install the new baseboards.  Then we’re good to go.  I really can’t wait for it to be truly completed.  It’ll be nice.  Afterwards there’s a lot to do planning for the wedding and we have almost no time.  Currently the wedding is set for November 2nd.  The first thing to do is to get the restaurant squared away.  Then it’s a matter of getting invitations printed, sent out, shopping for a dress, etc.  We’re shooting for just a very small reception so hopefully it’s not something that will get out of hand.  I can’t afford a big wedding anyways!

Things are coming hard & fast but it’s exciting so I’m not worried.  Yet.  🙂

Vietnam Trip in September, 2013
Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Vietnam Trip in September, 2013

by phuoc

My fiancée finally got her immigration visa. I went back for moral support as well as to see if there may be any questions that I might need to help her answer at the interview. Although we had a tough interviewer, everything went well and she’s on her way! That was the main reason I went but it’s also nice to take a mini-break and visit Saigon. This time I didn’t go anywhere and just stayed in the city. I did manage to take a few photos though. Enjoy!