Edition #4: Maslov and Money, Favorite articles from 2020, Writing Goals, Buy It For Life, and Surprises


written by oz chen

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You’re reading my newsletter about the weird aspects of money. If you missed a week, you can check out the archives here.

Last year I wrote about New Year’s Resolution Syndrome and talked about choosing goals that give you energy, instead of zapping your spirit with endless obligations.

This year I’m continuing with what gives me energy: writing consistently. After 30 days of writing, I discovered that I can write more than I thought I could.

In this newsletter I’ll cover trends I see going into 2021, a review my favorite vs reader favorite articles, writing goals and more.

In 2020, the coronavirus made me realize how much of my everyday, privileged life I took for granted. Trying out new restaurants, taking trips with friends, family gatherings, concerts, ecstatic dance, and pretty much anything involving strangers.

There’s pent-up hedonism waiting to be unleashed. It’s been bubbling underneath the surface, with people turning to drive-in raves and prohibition style secret events. The world wants 2020 to end and everyone wants to celebrate.

Some investors are betting on the return of hedonism, and accumulating stocks in airlines, cruises, and even beleaguered movie theater companies.

I don’t feel comfortable trading on these trends, even if they might make money.

I feel much more aligned investing in businesses addressing long-term trends that disrupt the current structure of society. Some of these trends accelerated during the pandemic:

  • Working at an office, e.g. rise of remote work and the fall of commercial real estate
  • High priced education, e.g. expensive colleges and prep schools replaced by online learning
  • Alternative finance & assets that serve as a hedge to traditional monetary systems, e.g. the Fed printing trillions out of thin air vs the limited supply of Bitcoin, or Cash App / Venmo circumventing credit card use.
  • Online shopping, e.g. the continued decline of physical retail and rise of eCommerce.

The industry term for this is “digital transformation.” Automation and technology will continue to challenge every industry, particularly those where humans are increasingly revealed to be the bottleneck. I’m excited to research and invest in companies that are at the forefront of this disruption.

For those fortunate enough to keep their jobs, the unintended upside was that people saved money at record rates and spent less.

From a minimalist standpoint, this is a good thing. Americans have been historically terrible at saving and I hope some of the forced austerity of the pandemic will translate to better financial health. With less opportunities to spend money on wants and desires, 2020 has been a year of looking inward.

On that note, I wrote a new article about meeting psychological needs with money.

Maslov and the Money

Recently, I was working on a draft titled How much is enough? It became too big of an article, but the conclusion I arrived at was clear—to use Maslov’s hierarchy as a guide to gauge how money can, and can’t, meet our needs.


I reference Maslov’s hierarchy a lot when thinking about social problems, whether that’s homelessness or questioning how hard we should work.

If you’re searching for mental models to guide personal finances, you’ll find this exploration interesting.

Articles I Wrote in 2020

Admittedly, 95% of articles are I wrote come directly from the NaNoWrimo challenge. Just goes to show that there’s a ton of value in doing writing challenges like this. I will commit to at least another 30 day writing challenge in 2021. Here’s a roundup of my personal favorites:

  1. How hard should you work?
    I explore big questions about work through first principles by examining work as a function of power and time. I end up making the point that morality should not be part of the equation, and make rebuttals about several popular maxims about work. It’s still an idea that keeps me up at night, and I want to explore this further through the lens of leverage.
  2. Tell your parents their job is done
    This was my favorite touchy-feely article that I wrote. I explain the relief every adult child can provide their parents by acknowledging that the endless job of parenting is done. Is there any more powerful feedback a creator can get than have its creation say “Hey, I’m happy and you did a great job”?
  3. Generalizations hide, specifics reveal
    This has already become a cornerstone heuristic I’ll use to make decisions. There is so much value in identifying how easy it is to hide things (often to ourselves) by keeping it general, and why the uncomfortable work of getting more specific can help us all.
  4. “What’s the meaning of life?” is a backwards question
    I wrote this as psychological insurance against nihilism. This article explores the chaos of this question, and why the answer is taking responsibility to define our own lives. It’s become another cornerstone article for me, much like chaos vs order and binary vs spectrum that I’ll reference often.
  5. You can’t get rich working for someone else is a LIE
    I love questioning cultural shenanigans like this one. Hustlers, entrepreneurs and many MLM-operators tout this idea that you can’t get rich working for someone else, and I explore why this is often a self-serving lie.

Reader favorites from 2020
These are articles that have the most views, social media comments and feedback:

  1. Earning Fixed 5% Interest with Worthy Bonds > I review a tool I’ve been using for years to beat the average (read: pitiful) savings account returns.
  2. M1 Finance Review: The Investing Super App > Review of a powerful investing tool that I use for all my non-retirement account investing.
  3. What I got wrong about the stock market > Questioning my biases and assumptions about investing, and arriving at a new style of investing.
  4. Future self savings method > a more fun way of saving by thinking of it as buying yourself future months of freedom.
  5. Can retail investors stand a chance against professional investors? > Exploring why the game of finance is big enough for everyone to play, and the unexpected advantages that individual investors have over professional traders.

Writing goals for 2021

Based on feedback I got from my writing, I decided to put together a newsletter focused on personal finance and the psychology of money. I’m committed to sending out a letter every week in 2021.

I’m excited to write on topics like…

What is money? What is wealth? Why does Bitcoin make people uncomfortable? How much happiness can money help you buy? Do cultures differ about sharing how much income one makes?

I want to iterate towards a newsletter that makes people excited to open up to read and learn from. But there’s a major gap in my writing process. I need feedback. Mostly, I want feedback on making ideas interesting; Is my article making a unique point? Which headlines? Should I restructure this article or break it down into separate articles?

For that reason, I’m applying to the OnDeck Writer’s Fellowship. OnDeck has created a strong community and there will be tons of high caliber writers in the upcoming cohort. If I don’t get in the fellowship, I’ll find another or create my own writer’s accountability group. That’s how much I value feedback. I don’t want to write in an echo chamber and only hope for web analytics to tell me how well an article performed.

I’m finally on Twitter and will be trying out ideas in short form Tweets. If you’re on Twitter, you should follow or tweet at me.

Speaking of social media, I want to double down on a couple different platforms to grow my audience. The top candidates are Twitter, Medium, Reddit and Quora. The first 2 make sense and feel like a continuation. I’m not sure about Q&A platforms which might be more of a time sink. Whatever it is, I want to focus on them one at a time, instead of being everywhere at once.

And speaking of Q&A…I recently updated my Ask Me Anything page. Hit me up.

💸 Money tip of the week: Buy it for life (“BIFL”)

“They don’t make it like they used to…

My mom’s washer and dryer lasted decades. I drove my last car for 12 years, and it could probably last another 12 years. These tend to be older products that were built with craft in mind, and before the idea of planned obsolescence became a business strategy (lookin’ at you, Apple).

Don’t you wish all products, including typically disposable ones like clothing, could last the test of time?

Tip: Google “[product name] buy it for life” and see what results you get.

You’ll most likely come across discussions from r/BuyItForLife, an ardent community that asks & recommends high quality products that last.

📚 Book highlight: The Psychology of Money

I’m a huge fan of Morgan Housel’s book, The Psychology of Money. It’s got timeless lessons about money…from a fascinating psychological perspective.

In the chapter “Surprise!” Housel makes a very important point that it’s human nature to underestimate unprecedented events.

Record-setting events had no precedent when they occurred. So the forecaster who assumes the worst (and best) events of the past will match the worst (and best) events of the future is not following history; they’re accidentally assuming that the history of unprecedented events doesn’t apply to the future.

So the biggest lesson to learn about surprise is that things will continue to surprise us. The coronavirus and massive social unrest all took us by surprise.

The lesson I’ll learn from this is that black swan events none of us expect will continue to happen. There are some things we can do to prepare, and that we can only be so prepared up to a certain point.

Beyond that, I’m an optimist and will count on technological progress to move humanity forward, inch by inch.

Happy New Year.

End Note

If you’re enjoying the newsletter, I’d love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up. I try to make it one of the best emails you get each week, and I hope you’re enjoying it.

Should you find anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through my online community.

Until next time,

I’m just a guy on the internet with an opinion, so please just treat my content as entertainment. My content is may contain referral links to products I use or love. My content is for informational purposes only, and you should not construe any such information or other material as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice. 

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