In this Tech episode of Industry Focus, Motley Fool analysts Dylan Lewis and Michael Douglass wrap up New Year's resolutions week with some fantastic advice for setting effective resolutions and making them stick.
Listen in for some tips on finding a system that will keep you incentivized throughout the year, and how having an accountability buddy can help keep you on track. Dylan and Michael also talk about their personal resolutions for 2017 and explain why they're giving a second look to the stocks in their portfolio and the credit cards in their wallet.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Jan. 13, 2017.
Dylan Lewis: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market every day. It's Friday, January 13th, and we're wrapping up Resolutions Week with today's Tech show. I'm your host, Dylan Lewis, and I'm joined in studio by Michael Douglass, head of Fool.com's financials, healthcare, and investment planning coverage. Michael, how's it going?
Michael Douglass: It's going great, especially for Friday the 13th. Maybe it's my lucky day that I'm here. Maybe it's your unlucky day that I'm here. I guess we'll decide.
Lewis: Yeah. The backdrop of the studio right now is an ominous purple. We'll see what happens today.
Douglass: Right, [laughs] it's like that weird storm cloud that you're like, "Oh, this could be really bad."
Lewis: [laughs] Yeah. But, today is really a treat, even though it's Friday the 13th, because we're getting to do a podcast together, and you are one of my best friends here at Fool HQ, and we have never done a podcast together because I don't know anything about healthcare and financials.
Douglass: And I don't know much about tech.
Lewis: But thankfully, we can talk about our New Year's resolutions together.
Douglass: [laughs] Yes!
Lewis: Just as a reminder to listeners, you can find all the resolutions that we're going to be talking about on today's show at resolutions.fool.com. The entire Industry Focus cast and a couple people who make cameos here and there did write-ups. If you want some clarity on anything we say, or you just want to see it written down rather than spoken out, you can find it there. But, I think, before we get into talking about our specific resolutions, we'll do that in the second half of the show, it's good for each of us to talk about how we think about resolutions, and the frameworks that we have set up to accomplish things. I mean, I got all my New Year's resolutions done last year. Did you?
Douglass: I don't remember if I made New Year's resolutions last year.
Lewis: But this year you did.
Douglass: Yes. This year, I did. I'm already one for three. I'm feeling pretty good about that.
Lewis: Wow. So you're 33% of the way there.
Douglass: Exactly. Mid-way through January. Feeling pretty good about that.
Lewis: If you annualize those returns ... [laughs]
Douglass: It's incredible! [laughs]
Lewis: So, you have a very specific framework for how you look at getting things done. You want to talk about that a little bit, Michael?
Douglass: Sure. But before that, let me talk, broadly -- I think a lot of this comes down to what motivates you. People are motivated by different things. Sometimes it's that they really want support, they really want that feeling of accomplishment, some people think about things in terms of power, some people think about things in terms of money. For me, I'm very much motivated by the idea of having a resolution that pays me. I actually try to quantify what the resolution is worth in money terms, then, how many hours it's going to take me to do that, so I can pay myself by getting that resolution done. That's very motivating to me, because I like to think a lot about return on investment of time. Ultimately, we only have so much time. So I want to make sure that any time I'm spending not doing my job and doing things that make me happy, like talking to my wife and watching movies and reading and skiing and whatever, hanging out with Dylan, [laughs] is time that is profitable.
Lewis: And when you think about it that way, rather than looking at rebalancing your 401(k), or deciding to up your contribution limit, or doing more stock research, and saying, "This is nebulous, and I can't really figure out what I'm getting out of this," you can say, "This is roughly what I've decided this is worth per hour."
Douglass: Right. And it's like, "OK, cool, I spent three hours yesterday on this, I made $120 long term. I feel pretty good about that."
Lewis: And it's a nice way to take what is otherwise a long-term thing and make it a little bit more short term and get some of that instant gratification.
Douglass: Yeah. And this is one of the things that's really tough when you're thinking about longer-term stuff. One of mine is very long term, and two of them are reasonably short term. It's just that daily grind. You have so much energy and excitement in January because it's awful outside and you want to do something to turn it around and make this next year awesome. But it's really hard, in mid-March, to keep chugging through. So, it's important to also practice some self-love. You miss some, you don't get something done in a month that you'd planned to, that's OK. You just have to pick up the pieces and keep going.
Lewis: Yeah. I am a firm believer, huge advocate, of writing things down. We have the benefit of being able to post ours on Fool.com. That may not be a benefits if you don't achieve them, [laughs] because they're publicly available.
Douglass: [laughs] "Missed that one."
Lewis: Yeah, right? But, really, if you have something written down, the reality is, most people are not going to get their life in order on January 1st or January 30th. It's just not going to happen. You have so many moving parts, you have holiday parties, whatever. There's so much going on.
Douglass: The flu.
Lewis: The flu. People get sick. But, if you have something written down, one, you have the process of organizing your thoughts into the things you want to prioritize for the coming year. Two, as you have free time, you can revisit that list and actually knock off the things you want to get done, rather than kind of remember something that you wanted to do but you don't exactly remember the specifics, and eh, I have to take the dog for a walk, and it never gets done.
Douglass: And things get in the way. And instead, by attaching something to it, whether it's, "If I do this thing, I get to take myself out to a nice dinner," or, again, I'm thinking of this in a dollar per hour basis, that gives you the carrot, in addition to the stick of "Yeah, this is a thing I need to do." So, you have the guilt in one hand and the price for doing this thing. And hopefully, this gives you a powerful combination.
Lewis: Yeah. And to look at what I did last year, because I wrote mine down last year, and they're available on Fool.com, too. Last year, I did take care of all three of my financial resolutions. Here's each one, and when I actually did them. First one was roll over my old 401(k) from a previous employer into a traditional IRA. That was something I did in June of 2016, so six months after I said that was something I wanted to do. My second one, up my current 401(k) contribution by 1%-2% -- that was something I did in January, because that's a pretty easy fix, you just have to log into your fund admin's portal and make a couple minor tweaks after you decide how much you actually need on a monthly basis.
Douglass: And then just forget it and watch the money pile up.
Lewis: Exactly. Resolution three, make a Roth IRA contribution. This is something that happened in August and September, did it over a two-month period. But, I think what you notice with all three of those is the really easy one got knocked out right away. The two that required paperwork and actually having to transfer assets over, or talk to my bank quite a bit, that was something that didn't get done for quite a while. But I eventually did it, because I knew that was something I needed to do, and I had it written down. So, when I had a free Monday and I didn't have anything going on after work, I could say, "Alright, what's the paperwork I have to go through to get this over to Vanguard and talk to my fund admin?"
Douglass: And what's really interesting about the is, your easiest one might have actually been your highest return-on-investment one, right? Upping that 401(k) contribution by a little bit really compounds a great deal over the years. I know this is an interview question you and I both ask when people come to The Motley Fool to interview for a position -- how do you think about prioritizing your time, when you're thinking about the amount of difficulty, the amount of effort, and the return?
Lewis: Oh, you love that matrix.
Douglass: I love that matrix. So for me, it's always like, are you interested in low-effort, high-value things? Because that's really cool. There's a very good reason to do that. Some people like really high-effort, high-value things, because that's their chance to do something that somebody else doesn't have the time for. So, there's a lot of interesting answers to that question. I find that really helpful in terms of thinking about psychology.
Lewis: A couple other things I think you'll notice with people that I think are successful with their resolutions, you want to keep things fairly realistic. My list last year was only three items. My list this year for personal finance-related resolutions, three items. I think yours was also three.
Lewis: You want a pretty manageable list. Know yourself and how much time you really want to commit to something. Even as someone that loves the stock market, investing, and personal finance, I know that I can only bite off so much with this stuff.
Douglass: And what I'll add to that is, if you think, dear listener, that three resolutions is too few, make three anyway. If you finish them all by mid-year, cool, take yourself out for a nice dinner and then make three more. There's nothing saying you have to make [all of] your resolutions right now and then carry them through for the year. Have yourself a little New Year's party with some champagne in June if you manage to do it all by then.
Lewis: January 1st, 2017 is a societal construct, man [laughs]. That's a good thing to keep in mind, though. To that point, use the new year as a force for good. Don't fall two months into 2017 and be like, "Ugh, it's a lost cause, 2017 can't be the year that I get it together." No, you still have 10 months left in 2017! Choose to reset when you need to reset. Some people, myself included, love having the turning of the calendar page into the new year as that reminder and that opportunity. But, if things don't work out early in the year, you can still do this at any other point.
Douglass: Right. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you're going to fall off, whether it's budgeting or dieting. Everybody has their day at work where it's like, "Oh man, somebody brought in chocolate cheesecake and fried chicken, and I just...aw, it's gone." That doesn't mean you can't get back on track the next day.
Lewis: Yes. A couple other tips -- I did a little homework just to see what the internet was saying about this -- I think having an accountability buddy can be pretty helpful. This is something I've seen on multiple blogs, it's actually something that one of my friends kind of forced me to do for them. It's hard for me to not evangelize sometimes about personal finance stuff when I'm out with my friends, as riveted as I'm sure they are when I do that.
Douglass: [laughs] I'm the same way.
Lewis: And neither of us are certified financial planners. But it's nice to at least raise awareness on certain things, and get people thinking about stuff. And I had a friend who had gotten a job at a school and worked and lived at home in the city that she was working in, so she was not paying rent for two years, because she was living with her parents. Then she moved out and moved in with a friend. And she came to this realization that she had saved a ton of money, well beyond what she needed for an emergency fund, and should probably do something with that. And she was talking to me about it, and I was like, "Yeah, let's do it."
Douglass: "Let's talk." [laughs]
Lewis: Not like you do it, but let's do it. Like, I'm going to ask you about this. And a month later, it was like, "OK, what's going on with the money? Have you set up a Vanguard account?" "No." A month later, "OK, I set up the Vanguard account, I haven't transferred the money yet." Sometimes it can be really helpful to find support from other people. I think that's something that people can overlook sometimes with that. You can be lucky and find an accountability buddy sometimes.
Douglass: Two thoughts on that. First off, do you want to be accountability buddies on, at least, the ones we share?
Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Douglass: OK, awesome. So, that. Second thought is, the other thing you pointed out is that she did it in pieces. Blocking and tackling is really important. Rolling over a 401(k) or something like that, as you and I know, takes forever. There's all this paperwork, you have to coordinate, and shuttle ambassador between two different companies, and it's kind of miserable. For me, I'm very much and incrementalist. I believe very strongly in, "OK, I made progress toward this, I didn't finish it, but that's OK, because I made the progress I'm going to make this week toward it. Next week, I'm going to do a little bit more." Then, gradually, it's like, "OK, I filled out the form today. That's enough. I'm going to go have dinner now." "Today, I'm doing this thing." That's a way to chunk it into manageable portions.
Lewis: Yeah. Small bites, right?
Douglass: Yeah, exactly.
Lewis: Michael. Second half of the show, why don't we talk a little bit about some of our New Year's resolutions? Again, shameless plug, these are available at resolutions.fool.com. Before we get into the personal finance ones, do you have any personal ones? Anything like, "I want to be a better person and do this."
Douglass: [laughs] Well, I do want to be a better person in general, and I don't tie myself to a calendar for that, because that's an always-ongoing process with plenty of ups and downs.
Lewis: Michael Douglass cannot be bound by calendar pages.
Douglass: (laughs) Something like that. I, as I'm sure many Americans did, put on a couple of pounds --
Lewis: You and me both.
Douglass: -- over the last two months. Yeah. So, I'm looking to lose those and a little bit more, because why not? So, my plan is to lose 10 pounds this year, and keep them off until mid-November, at least. Maybe I'll put a little bit more back on then. We'll see. That's fine, that's part of that time of the year, and I enjoy that, and it's just kind of how that works.
Lewis: Nice. One of my non-personal finance related ones is, I have a notebook, and I have to put something down in that notebook every day. It can be some crappy whatever, but it has to be something. The whole point is to stir creative thought, and at least give myself 15 minutes a day to think a little bit about it.
Douglass: A, that's awesome, and B, when they make a movie about it, I'm sure they'll title it The Notebook.
Lewis: [laughs] The Notebook, oh God! Nicholas Sparks, huh? So, I'm 12 for 12 so far, because today's the 13th. I haven't done it yet today, but we'll see how it goes. I'm always wary of daily resolutions, because they're very hard to keep. But I think, if I can set aside 5 to 10 minutes and at least think about it a little bit...I like to write, so I think it's worth trying.
Douglass: Totally. And, as Howie Day said, "even the best fall down sometimes." So, it's OK if you miss a couple.
Lewis: And that's the important thing. If I do miss a day, I'll just get back on the next day.
Douglass: Yep, exactly.
Lewis: Alright, let's talk a little bit about some of our more investing and personal finance-related ones. We have a couple that we share. One of them is investing-related, specifically talking about the research and attentiveness that we have to stuff that we hold.
Douglass: Yes. For me, I drew mine pretty broadly as, essentially, take the time to grow my stock portfolio. By that, what I mean is, historically speaking, one of my problems as an investor has been irrational exuberance, being too excited about a stock and then not doing enough research to make sure it's really the right one, and I really understand the risks. So a year, year and a half ago, I created this process that's really slowed me down, and that's awesome. The only problem is, that process takes six to eight hours per stock to properly vet. It's a lot of time.
So, my resolution on this is to take the time to vet at least one new stock a month, those six to eight hours, and then another approximately seven hours, so let's say 15 hours a month total, to review my portfolio holdings in general. Now, that seven hours per month to review will probably be stacked pretty closely to when quarterly earnings come out, because that's when really big new information comes out. So, I expect it will be really heavy in one month and lighter in the other two. But, it's really important to me to do this right and do this well. I believe that by doing this, I will be able to increase, I hope, my portfolio returns by 1% a year. In doing so, that would mean that over the next 20 years, that'd be worth around $160,000, which is an ROI of $44 per hour spent over the next 20 years.
Lewis: Nothing to sneeze at.
Lewis: And it's nice to see that framework at play. One of mine gets at something very similar. One of my resolutions is to make a tough decision on a small position that I own. Similar to how you maybe have lost tabs on some stocks, and one of your resolutions is making sure you know what's going on with companies. I own Whole Foods. It was one of the first stocks that I bought, and because it was one of the first stocks that I bought, the position that I bought was pretty small. As I learned more about the market, as I started covering tech a little bit more, my interests shifted over. The dividend payers that I went after generally had higher yields than Whole Foods, and the growth stories I was interested in tended to have higher ceilings than what I saw with Whole Foods. As a result, I never really grew that Whole Foods position. Truth be told, I bought it several years ago, I've fallen out of touch with what's going on with them as a business. That's kind of a problem, because I don't know whether I should hold them, buy more, or sell. So, what I've defaulted to is holding and not doing anything with it. The reality is, you look at what's been going on with them as a business, the market is down on them, I'm down on my cost basis, and were I to want to buy right now, it would be a pretty opportune time. And I simply have fallen out of touch with what's going on with the business.
Douglass: Totally. And actually, I'm in a very similar position with Whole Foods. They are one that -- you and I should set up a meeting and just sit and hold each other and ourselves accountable to talking about Whole Foods maybe a couple weeks from now.
Lewis: My friend and accountability buddy, Michael Douglass. One of the other ones that we share is spending a little bit more time thinking about credit cards. I know that I charge probably about 90%-95% of my purchases. Are you similar? Or do you just have a lot of expenses that I put on credit cards?
Douglass: The only thing I don't put on credit cards is rent, because we can't.
Lewis: If only.
Douglass: That's the dream, right there. But my place requires checks. But that's pretty much the only time we pull out the checkbook.
Lewis: Are you very conscious of the rewards you get with your credit cards? Or is it something you've given a lot of thought to before?
Douglass: It's something that I've thought about a little bit on and off. But this year, I committed to actually doing the math and figuring it out, and figuring out what I was getting. One of the nice things about it is that this is really a relatively low time cost thing. It's not the sort of thing that's an hour or three a month. It's really like two or three hours of focused research, and then just doing the math. In looking at it, it looks like my credit card is, if not the best one for me, very close to it. So, particularly given the benefits of keeping that card long-term for showing credit history, it's the card I want to stick with for now.
Lewis: I briefly investigated this, and that was what caused me to prioritize it for 2017. I charge most of my stuff, and I have a no annual fee rewards card. That's fairly basic, fairly bare bones. I get about 1.8% back, which isn't bad, it's nothing to sneeze at. Because it's no annual fee, and because it's with a bank that I've used for such a long time, I really haven't thought about it much. I did a little hunting, and saw that really, there are a lot of cards out there that offer similar, if not better, rewards rates, and have pretty nice intro bonuses if you hit certain spending thresholds within the first three months. Those bonuses are generally to the tune of $400-$650 in travel credits. Some of them are directly usable as cash, some of them are bookable, it depends on the card and the terms, which is a whole other conversation.
Douglass: Your mileage may vary.
Lewis: What I basically realized was, with my current spending habits, it wouldn't be very difficult for me to hit those spending thresholds and enjoy a nice $400-$650 toward whatever vacation I want to take in the summer, and throughout the year, enjoy a higher rewards rate. Second year, of course, annual fees will kick in on some of those cards, and that plays into the calculation. But one of my priorities for this year is to look at that field of slightly more rewarding cards and see what makes the most sense for me.
Douglass: Totally. Those intro bonuses are exactly to entice you to move cards, so there is a serious benefit to it, particularly if they waive the annual fee for the first couple years.
Lewis: Which they are always happy to do for new customer acquisition.
Douglass: Yeah, exactly. I hear the Bahamas are very nice this time of year.
Lewis: I'll let you know [laughs]. So, one of your resolutions that is not mine because it's not the phase in life that I'm at right now --
Douglass: [laughs] Because it's mine.
Lewis: Because it's yours. It's to understand the home-buying process a little bit more.
Douglass: Yes. So, this actually ties in with things like credit score, too, because your credit score is an incredibly important three-digit number for getting a mortgage. My wife and I have been saving for probably about two years now toward buying a house. In the D.C. area, not cheap, not easy. Some time this year, we will hit goal one, which is to get a roughly 20% down payment together, plus closing costs, plus emergency fund, to make sure that we are not heavily leveraged, that we are able to have some play, here, and figure out what makes sense. You definitely don't want to be in a spot where you buy a house, and the next day, somebody rear ends you, and suddenly you're in a cash crunch.
Lewis: So, this is something you've been building to for several years.
Douglass: Yes. So now, what we really need to do is understand beyond that. We're looking at a 20% down payment at some point this year. Now we need to figure out, how does this whole thing actually work? And there are home buying classes that the commonwealth of Virginia offers for free. We're planning to attend one of those maybe later this month, maybe in February. Then we need to talk to mortgage brokers and realtors, maybe Rocket Mortgage.
Lewis: Maybe Rocket Mortgage.
Douglass: And inspectors, and things like that, and figure out what all that looks like. There are some really clear financial benefits to this. I believe that a good realtor is worth a fair amount of money. I threw out a number, which is $10,000, the assumption being that, either in terms of helping negotiate down the cost of the house, or getting folks to throw in, "Oh, well, sure, we'll replace the toilet," that sort of thing. And/or, the benefit of a good inspector, which is maybe some deferred maintenance that you can make sure gets pulled into that price. I think that's worth $10,000. It turns out that many lenders will offer you a slight reduction in your mortgage rate if you take a home-buying class.
Lewis: Makes sense.
Douglass: Yeah. It's a 0.125% reduction on a $350,000 mortgage, which is $5,796 in interest saved over a 30-year period. So, all told, that works out to almost $16,000. I'm estimating it's going to take me about 108 hours or so of research, not including the actual home-buying process. That's just like, "What do you want? Do you want fireplaces? Chimneys?" All that stuff.
Lewis: Do you want fireplaces? Chimneys?
Douglass: You know, I don't really care, to be honest. I think my wife has a lot more opinions on that than I do. I probably will start having opinions, but I'm not there yet. ROI, assuming all those numbers are correct, is $146 per hour spent, which is a lot of money.
Lewis: And that's a resolution that lends itself very well to your ROI and time spent type methodology. You can see the savings much more clearly, particularly when you have a class that is going to reduce the interest rates that you're paying. So, as things lend themselves to that, that becomes a particularly powerful tool to incentivize you.
Douglass: We should keep making plays on words with lend, since mortgage lenders, all that sort of thing.
Lewis: [laughs] Oh, gosh.
Douglass: But yeah, it's something that that I'm actually really excited about. It's a huge financial decision, often one of the largest that most Americans make. So, I want to make sure that I do it careful and methodically and correctly.
Lewis: My resolution that is not your resolution --
Lewis: -- the one that we have that is different --
Douglass: We are, in fact, different people. We are in the same room right now, so you know we're different people.
Lewis: We don't groupthink on anything. It's kind of personal finance, kind of tech. I'm going to shoehorn it into tech a little bit. It's to change the passwords on the important accounts I have for my online portals. I'm going to throw out a couple of frightening numbers, just to paint a picture for most people's habits, and what is out there in the world. ZDNet, which is an online outlet that covers some tech stuff, they estimated that 2.2 billion records were leaked in 2016. A German research institute did some analysis of those leaked credentials. They found that, of people involved in multiple hacks, 20% of those individuals had the exact same password for several sites. I am not totally guilty of that, but I could be much better and much more original in how I name my passwords. It's been a while since I've even put them in. There's some peace of mind on my end that will come from updating my passwords, making them a little bit less predictable, and maybe tougher to get, and slightly different for each site, so if anything happens to my Gmail account or my Facebook account, it's not also going to impact access to my bank account, or something like that.
Douglass: Right. That's where things get really scary and ugly.
Lewis: For me, that's something I'm just going to have to spend one day just churning through passwords, on a Saturday, and update them. But that's something on my end that's really just oriented toward peace of mind and not having some crazy identity issue rear up next time I see a leak, or something like that.
Douglass: Totally. Of course, something you could do instead, just an idea for blocking and tackling is, the next time you use each of these, just go ahead and change the password. That way, you don't have to just bang it all out in a single day. Instead, you're like, "Oh, I have to look in my bank account, you know what I should do? It's time, I'm going to go ahead and change my bank password right now."
Lewis: That's a great piece of advice. I want to be somewhat systematic about it because I've heard that Healthcare host, Kristine Harjes, has a very memorable way to name her passwords so that she can easily recall them, but they're still unique for each thing she does. So, I want to talk to her a little bit about how that works. Obviously, I'm not going to ask her what her passwords are.
Douglass: [laughs] Right.
Lewis: But, whatever the convention is that she uses to generate them, and co-opt that. If I do it once and I do it right, for four hours, then I really don't have to worry about it that much again.
Douglass: Yeah, totally.
Lewis: So, that's a resolution that's not quite so much in the personal finance sphere, but something that, we're all just trying to rest easy.
Douglass: It could cost you a lot of money, therefore, it's personal finance.
Lewis: [laughs] It's downside protection. Thank you so much for hopping on the Tech show, Michael.
Douglass: Thanks, it was a real pleasure. Let's do this again sometime soon.
Lewis: A year from now?
Douglass: [laughs] Hopefully sooner than that. Maybe I'll have something smart to say about a tech company sometime soon.
Lewis: Maybe we'll do a financials-technology show sometime.
Douglass: Oh, that'd be fun. Or the crossover of healthcare and tech.
Lewis: Hell, yeah!
Douglass: There are, in fact, crossovers.
Lewis: Well, listeners, that does it for this episode of Industry Focus. If you have any questions, or you just want to reach out and say hey, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can always tweet us @MFIndustryFocus. If you like the show and are looking for more of our stuff, subscribe on iTunes or check out The Fool's family of shows at fool.com/podcasts.
As always, people on the program may own companies discussed on the show, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against stocks mentioned, so don't buy or sell anything based solely on what you hear. For Michael Douglass, I'm Dylan Lewis, thanks for listening and Fool on!