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Despite being a pretty severe minimalist for a long time, I think I'm now known a lot for what I buy. I worry about this a little bit sometimes, because I don't think being a great consumer is very meaningful. On the other hand, buying the right things is a good substitution for buying a lot of things, and I do take some pride in my habit of buying great things irrespective of any sort of advertising or hype. In this post I want to share my process for choosing what to buy.
There are two different ways in which I tend to begin a buying decision. The first is looking to solve a problem, and the second is upon finding an opportunity.
Take, for example, my tea set that I travel with everywhere I go. My old set was beautiful, but it was ceramic. That meant that it was heavy and also that it could break. The housekeeper on a cruise broke the lid of my gaiwan once and it made it very difficult to make tea for the rest of the trip. In this case I began the search for a new tea set that would solve this problem.
A real estate agent friend here in Vegas posted an ad for a house she listed on Instagram. It had huge decks, a fire pit, and was nestled amongst massive pine trees. It looked like the opposite of a typical house in Vegas, so I dug in and realized that you could buy houses on Mt. Charleston, which is a tall mountain right outside of Vegas. The opportunity here was that I live under an hour away from a pine forest and mountains -- maybe there was a cabin I could purchase to take advantage of having access to a totally different climate.
No matter how I start the buying process, I try to establish what factors I actually care about before doing my research. These may change as I go if I learn something new, but if you don't start knowing what you're looking for you're more susceptible to letting sellers tell you what you should care about, which is often not in your best interest.
In the case of the the tea set, I cared about the normal things that inspired the previous set (compact size, stacking cups so I can share with friends, good enough quality that it doesn't drip everywhere, etc), but I also cared about something that would be much more durable.
My vision for the cabin was that I could go there in the summer to escape the heat, possibly even living there for a week at a time, and that it could serve as a base for ski trips in the winter. That meant that it had to be accessible, close to hiking and skiing, and be big enough that my wife and I could live there for a week and continue to work or bring a couple friends up for a weekend.
Next I cast a really wide net and consider as many options as possible. I searched everywhere on Mt. Charleston and actually found a neighborhood I liked better than the original one. I even drove up there to see what they felt like. For my tea set I searched for every possible type of travel tea set, considered making my own, and even considered things that weren't meant for tea, like titanium sake cups.
When I was in the process of buying a boat I initially wanted a pontoon boat, because my main criteria was being able to drink tea on the lake and go swimming. Because I cast a wider net I discovered a whole class of boats I didn't realize existed and were affordable, cabin cruisers, so I got everything I initially wanted but also gained the benefit of having a vessel I could do overnight trips on.
Once I finish this process, I will usually have my options narrowed down to just one or a few items. In the last phase of my buying process I consider what I would pay for the purchase and whether it would be worth it and provide more value than I could get by spending that money in other areas.
I found a great cabin, but then discoveed that it had some big hidden costs that would run to about $6k per year, and I ultimately decided that it didn't offer enough value to justify the cost. In the case of the tea cups there was a clear winner so I just purchased it. When I'm researching for the gear post I often buy several different options so that I can make an even better decision, since I know that hundreds or thousands of people will also benefit from that small edge.
When I was in my teens my father gave me a great compliment and said that he had never met anyone who was less influenced by advertising than me. I think it's very much due to this process, which I've been doing to some extent even since I was a teenager, that has allowed me to ignore advertising and hype and to buy the thing that is actually the best. You can see a real-life example of this process when I bought my car.
Photo is from Mary Jane Falls on Mt. Charleston
I will be doing another Tea Time with Tynan this Sunday at 10am PST. We'll discuss buying things for the first half and open it up to any other questions for the second half. Please join us!
I don't really consider myself to be a foodie, but the food in Hilo is SO good that it's one of the things I most look forward to every time I visit. I've been to the major Hawaiian islands and have had great food on all of them, but Hilo is definitely in a league of it's own.
Hilo is the rainiest city in the US, which provides a natural buffer against tourism. If you're going to book a weeklong vacation in advance, you might not want to choose somewhere where it may rain for several of those days. But this same rain, along with the size and geography of the Big Island, means that just about everything can be grown or raised right on the island.
In general the food in Hilo is defined by extremely high quality (usually local) ingredients, and chefs who are obsessive about making great food. Here are some of my favorite places.
By strange coincidence, I know a lot of people starting restaurants. Some are friends, some are family members, and some I've just gotten to know because I eat at their restaurants all the time. One is a world class chocolate company, another is a pizza place, another is a shave ice stand, and another is a sushi chef.
They all have two things in common. First is that they are absolutely world class. I travel enough and eat enough food that I know what's good and what isn't, and all of them are literally as good as it gets within their field. The second thing that they all have in common is that they didn't have backgrounds in food.
Once or twice is a fluke, but to see so many world class food companies start from inexperienced people really got me thinking.
I noticed that they all had the exact same approach. They all sourced the very best ingredients possible. The shave ice is all organic fruit and sugar, with no flavors or dyes. The pizza place cold-called the most famous meat supplier and got them to make them a special pepperoni blend. The sushi chef, who operates out of his mom's house, flies in the best ingredients from around the world.
We're all looking for the next thing that we should be doing or paying attention to. Maybe that's even part of why you read this blog. This is a good pursuit of course, but it often seems to me that people don't spend enough time figuring out what they shouldn't be paying attention to. I find that most people actually know what they should be doing, but they cram their lives so full of so much other stuff that they bury the needle within the haystack.
It's important to create a very strong filter, one that catches 99% of the stuff that you're exposed to, especially the useless stuff that masquerades as important stuff.
You need to know what you want to come out of the end of the filter. It's not enough to think about what's "bad", but rather you must know what matters to you. For me it's quality time with friends and family and trying to do and learn about stuff that others don't (so that I can bring it to you and my friends in a usable way). You could pick apart my life and find some other stuff too, but the vast majority of what I do is aimed towards those goals.
When you encounter something vying for your attention, ask if it is aligned with what you want to come out of your filter and whether it is actionable or not. If it meets these two criteria, go for it. If not, ignore it and move on. If you find that you are frequently filtering something out that you wish you didn't have to filter out, that may mean that you need to change to a different filter, maybe because you're at a different place in your life.
In just about any way I can think of, I have an amazing life. But of all of the aspects of my life that bring me happiness, the most important one is the relationships I have with my friends and family. This is probably true for almost everyone, but it's odd to me how most people will manage their financial life meticulously but manage their social life haphazardly. Most people should invest more in friendships.
Just like financial investments, you want to choose your investments wisely. If you diligently save your money but invest it in random penny stocks, you won't get much of a return. If you invest your time and effort into the wrong people, you won't end up with the social group that you want.
It's easy to say yes to an invitation to a party or to hang out, but it's important to remember that you have limited time and limited focus. Even if you have nothing else going on today and you decide to spend time with someone you're not crazy about, you may be less motivated to seek out a friend the next day.
A good rule of thumb is to think about whether you are interested in deepening a friendship. If you are, you should spend time with that person. If you're not, you shouldn't. If you're not sure, you might as well hang out with them once or twice more to figure it out. The upside of a great friendship is high enough that it's worth taking the risk.
I used to say that Vegas was the best place in the US to live (with a few caveats), as long as you didn't have to be here the whole year and could travel. And then 2020 came, I couldn't travel, and I was stuck here for the entire year. To my surprise, I love the city even more and am even more convinced it's the place to be.
When people ask why I like Vegas, the first thing that comes to my mind is that it has the highest quality of life and the lowest friction of any city I've been to. In other words, there is a huge range of great stuff to do and experience here, and all of it is very easily accessible, so you actually do it.
There is no traffic, you can park anywhere (usually for free), and almost everything that isn't on the strip is reasonably priced. Because of the city's unique geography and surplus of space, there are things you can do here that you just can't do in most cities this size.
When we moved from an apartment to a house recently, I saw it as an opportunity to explore energy efficiency. I knew that switching to more efficient alternatives usually doesn't pay off for a period of time, so I figured we should start immediately and reap the benefits for as long as possible.
I was very surprised to learn just how quickly some things pay for themselves and how much of a no-brainer certain things are. The government as well as local utilities also have a bunch of rebates, making things an ever better deal. Here is some of what I've learned
Solar in Las Vegas is a complete no-brainer as the city has more hours of sunshine per year than any other major city in the US. The payback period varies, but it's around 7 years. However, panels do add some value to your house for resale, so the payback period is shorter than that in reality.
I'm a white male who was born into a loving and smart middle class family with a big support network of extended family. My family prioritized good schools, even when it was a financial stretch to afford them, and as a result I had the opportunity to be around great teachers, all of whom I remember to this day, as well as peers with similar situations. I may not exactly be the poster boy of privilege, but I'm probably not that far off either.
Everything I write comes from this privileged background. There's absolutely nothing I can do about that, since it is my reality. Several people brought up privilege in my recent survey, though, so I wanted to address it and also share what I think are some productive ways to think about it.
First, I think that privilege is a great thing. My grandparents grew up dirt poor (and first generation immigrants on one side), and through two generations they were able to get where we are today. America (and the world) had MORE problems then, but even so, that sort of mobility was possible. (And yes, I understand that there are some key things that are worse today).
When thinking about privilege I think we should focus on how to get more privilege to people who don't have it rather than demonizing those who do. For example, billionaires are very unpopular these days, but I love them. My life has unambiguously become better due to many of the billionaires. Rather than pick at their faults, which they all certainly have, we should be focusing on how we can create an easier path for less privileged people to get to that same level.
Everyone always asks me for more posts about buying property with friends, but I never really knew what they wanted to know. Last week on my new YouTube Live show, Tea Time with Tynan, I asked people for their questions about buying property with friends. People asked some great questions, so I figured I'd collect the best of them and answer them here as well.
How do you choose where to buy a place?
The way we've chosen each place has been different. We chose the island because we desperately wanted to buy an island, and the Halifax, Canada area was the only place to buy a cheap island that looked good and was accessible. In retrospect I think we got really lucky here, because Halifax is great. Budapest was chosen because I went there a couple times and loved it. It was the first place in Europe that I really wanted to get to know on a deeper level. Its central location also made it an easy sell as a European home base. Hawaii came when we realized that all of our properties were better suited for the summer than the winter, so we started looking for tropical places. I originally chose San Juan, Puerto Rico, but after visiting it again I wasn't convinced it was a slam dunk. Japan has been on the list forever as it's the one place that all of my friends and I keep going back to year after year. The only reason it was the last one purchased was because it was so hard to find a good place.
Within each city (island excluded), we try to buy as centrally as possible. Budapest and Hilo (Hawaii) are right downtown. Tokyo is 4 minutes from a station that servers two major subway lines, and a 15 minute walk to Shinjuku.
One of the best compliments I ever received was when a friend told me that I was a leader of leaders. He was also a leader, so it meant a lot coming from him. I've had this topic on my "to write" list for years now, but every time I attempt to write it I'm worried that it will come off as conceited. So first, a disclaimer.
This post does not mean that I think I am THE leader of my friends. I think that most or all of my friends are leaders and that we all take turns leading or lead simultaneously in different ways. So this post is just as much from the perspective of leading friends as it is from the perspective of being led by friends.
When I talk about leading, I am mostly talking about serving. I've led my friends on many trips around the world, I've orchestrated a lot of group property purchases, and I've gotten many of my friends into things like tea, living in RVs, crypto, my style of personal finance, etc. I like to go off and figure something out that can benefit everyone, and then bring it back to the group and guide them through it. And, of course, my friends have also done the same for me countless times. My friend Nick got me into art, it was my friend Todd's idea to travel minimally (I wanted to get a huge backpack at first!), and my friend Jesse led me to love tea.
The biggest difference in leading leaders is that they don't need you. If you do a poor job leading or lead them astray, they'll just go off on their own and figure it out. For this reason, trust is the most important factor. A leader will not follow someone that they don't trust. For example, what's the point of friends following me on a 1 week trip around Japan if they think I might waste their time and they could have just gone and done their own trip? If I tell them that I've discovered a better way to manage finances, but they don't trust that I've actually done enough research, they'd be better off figuring out it out themselves.