Friday, May 06, 2016

Weekly Weight (5/5)

For transparency, and to keep me motivated, I am going to toss in a weekly weight report. Thursday is a good day to do it since I probably have been eating fairly clean (before heading into the weekend that offers more temptations).

So thanks to some fast days (Tuesday and Thursdays... they are more partial fast days since it simply means that I pretty much have nothing but coffee (with some cream) and some fish oil, though I will toss in some protein shakes if I am working out (with a little BCAA )) I am happy to see the lowest weight in 4 years (basically since I got back from Afghanistan in January 2012 I was 245lb, and by May 2012 I was 265 with a long upward climb until my embarrassment point of April 2015 where I tipped the scales at 287.5).

Last week (we will call that week 0) :

  • 260.9

Thursday : (week 1)

  • 257.8

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


(side note, been reading a lot of personal finance blogs in the past year or so every so often I am going to hit items like that in the future)

I am not a financial advisor so take this with a grain of salt, this is just my observations.

As a federal employee (times 2 actually, since I am federal civilian and a Army National Guard Officer) I get the opportunity to invest in the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). On my civilian side it is a solid deal (considering that it is in addition to a defined benefits plan, FERS, that while nice isn't as nice as all the other other government employee programs (for some (good) reason state and local plans are the ones that really seem to create a lot of the controversy, because they were underfunded by their organizations and are insanely generous)).

Some basics. First off, for any federal civilian employee under FERS, if you are not contributing 5% of your salary, you are leaving money on the table (there is an automatic 1% contribution, but to get the full matching you really need to do 5%, which gets the other 4% matching fees into your account, where it can start doing some work for you.

Now the biggest complaint against TSP is the lack of fund selection, which is a fair complaint, since there are only 5 basic options (2 of which are effectively bond funds). Some of these complaints come from before 2001, since back then there were only 3 funds, the 2 bond funds and a general stock fund. But the 3 other options should give you a comprehensive risk exposure across a number of asset classes.  They are:

  • C Fund - Mirrors the S&P 500. 
  • S Fund - Mirrors the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index, a broad market index made up of stocks of U.S. companies not included in the S&P 500 Index.
  • I Fund - Mirrors the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.
  • G Fund - The one controversial part of TSP and the frequent focus of legislation. If they ever change it to non-favorable terms (right now they get a weighted average of 4+ year returns of the Treasury notes, which means we are getting long term rates on a short term asset, which has attracted the attention of the Congress-critters)  I know I will be engaged in a rebalancing in that event.
  • F Fund - Matches Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, which is more variable than the G Fund but often has a higher return. Less stable but more like regular bond funds.
There are also some "L" Funds that build a basket of the above items and are centered around when you expect to retire, basically slowly shaping your investments to be more conservative options the closer that date gets.

So overall, while solid it doesn't sound like the best deal (beyond of course putting in that minimal 5% to make sure you aren't leaving money behind). But the kicker comes when you look at fees. As of 2015 ( the average expense ratio is .029%, which is the lowest among all my assets (and because just a little over 71% of my retirement assets, 55% of my total assets, it drags down my average to .05% in annual fees).

When I get a little older (maybe when I hit 50, 55) I may have to do some analysis of whether, from a tax perspective, it makes sense to explore the Roth TSP option.

BTW, one interesting feature. You can effectively make a loan to yourself ( up to $50,000. Other than a $50 cost, the interest rate you get is the effective rate of the G Fund. But the more interesting part is that any interest you pay is put into your account (so basically the marginal cost is keeping that amount loaned at a lower rate than it could  earn in the other funds).  

Sunday, May 01, 2016

April "Reads"/Reads

Lots of driving for the Army leads to more "reading"of audio books:
  • Joe Ledger: Special Ops (Joe Ledger #5.5) by Jonathan Maberry
    • A great collection of short stories. The Joe Ledger world combines high tech, investigation, action and, yes, a little of the unexplained (in some ways this is the X-Files from operators perspective as opposed to a more passive special agent perspective). They fill in some of the backstories of specific books and/or characters. This was a excellent way to prepare for the release of the new book in the Joe Ledger series later this month. (5/5) 
  • Do Unto Others (Freehold: Ripple Creek #2) by Michael Z. Williamson
    • Bodyguards. You may ask yourself, what can be more boring that being a bodyguard. Well.. When you are the bodyguard for the only child (daughter) of the richest man in human space? Well, then things get complicated. Located in the Freehold universe (authoritarian Earth that embodies the nanny state, but also containing Freehold, libertarian paradise) this is the story of the Ripple Creek bodyguards (from the previous book, Better to beg Forgiveness) who have the difficult task of keeping this young woman alive. (4/5) 
  • The Dark Between the Stars (Saga of Shadows #1) by Kevin J. Anderson
    • Bringing back most of the surviving cast of the Saga of the Seven Suns, this book jumps 20 years into the future (so now the children of the main characters are involved as well). There is a new bad guy for the hero's to face, as well as some returning bad guys and some new allies. It will be interesting to see how the story continues to develop, as the scope of this story is pretty far reaching (which leads to some significant jumps in perspective). Overall a solid story. (3.5/5)
  • Chaos (A New World #1) by John O'Brien
    • It was an entertaining read. The world is going down due to a flue virus, and the vaccine turns out to be worse than the disease. My one big issue was that it seemed to easy for the main character, Jack. He flies an C-130, there just happens to be one with extra internal fuel tanks. The only person he encounters in the sky is his girlfriends brother? Yeah, I want to be this guys friend since he appears to be the luckiest guy alive (and of course his GF is one of the few survivors at the military base in Kuwait she is at). I will definitely read (listen to) the next book to see where this goes. (3/5)