When brand loyalty goes a little bit too far

I am extremely loyal to brands. I study and analyze all the available options, then I pick the best one and commit to their services. For brands that are ex­tra favorites of mine, I even go as far as to purchase their publicly-traded stock. The most obvious brand I’ve committed to that is apparent from my re­cent cross-country road trip is Marriott. I stay only in Marriott hotels, I am Titanium Elite in their Bonvoy loyalty program, and I own thousands of dol­lars’ worth of stock of Marriott International, Inc.

Delta has recently become one of these brands too. I also own thousands of dollars’ worth of stock of Delta Air Lines, Inc., and if possible, I always take a Delta flight instead of a flight with a different airline. For my recent trip from LAX to ORD, I had the option of flying non-stop via American Airlines. Instead, I chose to fly Delta Flight 937 from LAX to MSP, take a layover, and fly Delta Flight 3582 from MSP to ORD.

The connection was a little bit tight, but I was fairly confident I could make it. Flight 937 would arrive at MSP at 6:44 PM CDT. Flight 3582 departs MSP at 7:25 PM CDT. Boarding doors generally close 15 minutes prior to take-off. That would mean I have a 26-minute window to deplane, go to the next gate, and board my next flight. Hashtag doable.

An interesting flight path from LAX to MSPThat is, unless the crew is late, and then the pilot decides to take a very strange flight path. A 1:05 PM PDT on-time departure turned into a 1:14 PM PDT late departure, and a 6:44 PM CDT on-time arrival turned into a 7:04 PM CDT late arrival. Instead of taking a nice, smooth arc from LAX to MSP (or a straight line, if you’re a flat-earther, I guess), the pilot started flying due east out of LAX, presumably to avoid some California wildfires, then went off-angle for a bit, decided to add a nipple to his flight path (probably to avoid a storm in Iowa), then approached MSP from the wrong side and did a circle around the airport.

We deplaned out of the D gates, and my connecting flight was boarding from Gate C20. With a 20-minute arrival delay, that gave me a 6-minute window to make it to my next gate before boarding doors closed. I’ve pulled off some pretty incredible feats at airports, like running two-thirds of a mile with a backpack and luggage in six minutes at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The unlucky part is that, you’d expect the D gates to start when the C gates end, i.e., it goes from C1 to C25, then D is after C25… but that’s not the case. The D gates are before Gate C1, so getting to C20 is a bit of a trek.

But I wasn’t discouraged. This was still doable.

Flying into Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport

… My entire six minutes was used up by the flight crew opening the doors and letting us out. We arrived at the gate at 7:04 PM, but the doors didn’t ac­tu­al­ly open until a few minutes afterwards, and I wasn’t off the plane until a few more minutes on top of that. I checked the Delta app hoping for a de­lay on my connecting flight, but it showed an on-time departure. There was no way I was going to make this one. I didn’t even bother running.

Walking from Gate D4 to Gate C20 at MSP

I made it to Gate C20 by 7:24 PM CDT, just in time for the gate agent to tell me that the plane had already left several minutes ago for an on-time de­par­ture. I sort of shrugged it off and asked her where the closest Delta customer support desk was, but others didn’t handle it as well as I did. A couple showed up moments after me; they clearly didn’t understand that boarding doors close prior to the scheduled departure time, and were infuriated that they had made it “just in time,” but the plane was already gone. In their rage, they pulled off their face coverings and started yelling at the gate agent. Did you know that the COVID-19 pandemic stops existing if you’re mad about missing your connecting flight?

Anyway, I managed to find my way to a Delta customer support desk between Gates C1 and C2. There was no representative at the desk so I used the support phones to get my replacement flight booked and sorted; by the time I was done with that, a representative had shown up, so I asked her for a hotel voucher and a toiletry/amenity baggie. I made my way downstairs to ground transportation and hopped on a hotel shuttle bus to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bloomington – Minneapolis South, my assigned complementary hotel.

It was a packed shuttle going to the DoubleTree. After about 20 minutes (a bit longer than expected because we went to the other terminal too to pick up more passengers), a group of ~8-10 parties exited the shuttle and walked into the hotel with vouchers for check-in. Ahead of this group were a few guests who had already checked in and needed assistance with their stay.

One of these guests was a man who went up to the counter with two ice cream bars. He had apparently just purchased them for $4 each, but noticed on his receipt that he was overcharged and wasn’t quite sure where (I imagine the receipt wasn’t itemized). The Hilton representative looked up the trans­ac­tion and let him know that, although the sign said the ice cream bars were $4 each, one of them was actually $5 and the other was $8 (even though they were both the exact same ice cream bar).

The guest requested a refund of the difference in price, and justifiably so—if the ice cream bars are labeled as $4 on the refrigerator, it would make sense that he should only pay $4. The representative tapped on his keyboard a bit, then said “I will refund you $1.52.”

That clearly was not enough to make up for the difference in price, so the guest sort of stood there in confusion and didn’t say anything. Moments later, the representative said “you have been provided with a full refund, please return the ice cream bars back to the refrigerator” … which is obviously not what he just said he would do, and is not what was requested.

The guest clearly had enough. He had mentioned earlier that he was down here to check on the price because he was sick of getting screwed over by this hotel, so I imagine this was not his first incident with the Hilton. I don’t necessarily agree with his methodology, but I definitely don’t blame him for what he did next. In a fury of rage, he crushed the ice cream bars, walked over to the refrigerator, threw them back in, slammed the door, tore off the “$4 each” sign, and slammed it on the check-in desk, pointing out that it was false advertising. He then went to the elevators and returned to his room.

The Hilton representative’s bald head began shining with sweat and his panic ensued. The representative paced back and forth for a bit, then grabbed the phone and called who I presume to be the security office. He acted like there was an active threat, even though the guest had already left. He hung up, picked up the phone again, and made some more calls. Eventually, a few more Hilton staff members, one of whom appeared to be dressed the part for being a manager, came out from the back to see what was going on.

The representative who was involved in the incident pulled up the irate guest’s personal information on file and started reading it aloud in front of the 8-10 parties still awaiting check-in—the ones who had just gotten off the shuttle with me—presumably so another employee could write it down. He then began explaining to the manager what was going on, pointing out that he had basically been assaulted by this guest.

I couldn’t help myself.

I, as the witness closest to the incident, informed the manager that the representative effectively provoked the guest by overcharging him for his pur­chase, then literally saying he would do one thing to resolve the problem (which wasn’t even an appropriate resolution) and then proceeding to do some­thing completely different. Needless to say, the representative was not happy.

Things eventually settled down. After the manager deescalated the situation (and by “the situation,” I mean “the representative,” because the angry guest had been long gone by this point, and there wasn’t really a situation to deescalate anymore), I was next in line to check in.

Seeing as I had just ratted out this representative to his boss, I wasn’t expecting much. I let him know that I’m Titanium Elite with Marriott Bonvoy, and asked if he would be able to do a status match in benefits for this stay, to which he said “no.” I asked him if I could at least get a complementary bottle of water or something, to which he replied “no.”

My response was, “this is why I stay at Marriotts.”

With an ever-so-barely visible scowl on his face, he put me on the lowest guest room floor of a 22-story building with a nice view of concrete.

After a passable night’s rest, I woke up in time to catch the 8:30 AM shuttle to the airport. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was full, and it was on a first-come, first-served basis, so I was out of luck. My rebooked flight was at 10:30 AM; the hotel’s airport shuttles operated once every hour, and I didn’t want to take the risk of waiting for the 9:30 AM shuttle, so I just called an Uber.

Five minutes into my Uber ride, I got an email from Delta saying that my flight was delayed, with a new departure time of 11:37 AM. That obviously would’ve been nice to know before I had already left the hotel, but it was fine. I’d just spend an extra hour at the airport eating some breakfast and people-watching. … Shortly after I arrived at the airport, I got another email saying the departure had been delayed again, this time to 12:09 PM.

I bought a protein shake and went to an empty gate with nobody around so I could take off my mask and enjoy my drink. I got very lucky with my gate selection, because I happened to pick one where they were running training exercises for the airport bomb-sniffing dogs.

Bomb-sniffing dogs under training

Bomb-sniffing dogs under training

Bomb-sniffing dogs under training

Upon the conclusion of my entertaining dog show, Delta emailed me yet again informing me that my flight had been delayed to a 1:07 PM departure. I looked up the inbound flight for the plane that was sup­posed to take us to ORD, and apparently it was still grounded at OKC, hours after it was sup­posed to take off. I assumed it was some sort of mechanical problem with the aircraft (which I later confirmed was correct), so I walked around MSP un­til I found a power outlet, pulled out my laptop, plugged in, and started getting some work done.

Delta must have thought that this was a great idea, because they delayed the flight again to 2:16 PM.

As the time approached closer to 1 PM, I took another look at the status of the inbound flight and saw that it was en route. I realized that this is likely go­ing to end up being the last delay, and I will finally make it to Chicago. At 1:46 PM, I packed up my laptop and made my way to Gate C14 for boarding. I scanned my boarding pass and got on the plane. Everyone else boarded, the flight attendants closed the boarding doors, the airport crew retracted the jet bridge, and we were ready to leave. My travel day was finally coming to an end.

Awaiting departure from Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport

Then the pilot announced that ORD was grounding all inbound flights at their origin until at least 3 PM due to severe thunderstorms.

Honestly, it would be more surprising if I was surprised.

I pulled out my tablet, opened my Kindle app, loaded up a Stephen King book that I’m in the process of reading, and re­clined all the way back in my seat, thank­ful that I got upgraded to first class.

Awaiting departure in a Bombardier CRJ900

I was fully prepared and expecting to be told that ORD extended the postponement of inbound flights, but we were actually cleared to depart at 3 PM. We set off, and in under an hour of air time, we arrived safely at ORD. I’m sure you can guess how excited everyone was when we flew into Chicago and saw no trace of the thunderstorms that delayed us for an additional 44 minutes on the Minnesotan tarmac.

Flying into Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Delta is still my favorite airline, and if possible, I will continue to always fly Delta Air Lines. Prior to the past two days, Delta has provided me with no­ta­bly smooth and high-quality service for years.

However, after this experience… I may possibly consider taking American Airlines in the future if they have a non-stop flight available while Delta does not. 🙂




Re: “How is it financially viable to live out of Marriott hotel rooms for half a year?”

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback regarding my decision to become homeless for half a year and roam around the country. The general consensus is that people are happy I’m finally taking time to myself (as opposed to constantly grinding work), and many are keeping up with my travel blog posts and liv­ing vicariously through me.

There have been a few people, though, who think this is a terrible idea, and most of them believe this for financial reasons. I’ve had one person point out that I must be “filthy rich at this point that [I] don’t even know what to do with all my money,” while another has more bluntly stated that I’m a hyp­o­crite for pushing theories of financial responsibility and then proceeding to go do something as “reckless” as this.

I thought a great way to address this and explain just how it’s actually financially viable for me to do something like this is to do a breakdown of how much money I am and would be spending in each of the two living situations.

As a precursor to this, I want to point out that, no, I am not actually filthy rich. I am satisfied with the volume of my various income sources and I am much better off than an overwhelming majority of Americans, but I am in no way considered “rich.”

Also note that I am only 29 years old, and have a Bachelor’s degree and half of an incomplete Master’s degree. This means:

  1. I’ve only been in the workforce for a handful of years, not only because I’m still fairly young, but also because I spent a lot of years in school;
  2. I entered the workforce with an overwhelming amount of student loan debt, a lot of which had relatively high interest rates that I wanted to pay off as soon as possible; and
  3. I’m still busy saving up for retirement, as I want to get as much of that as possible taken care of now so I don’t have to worry about it later.

With that being said, let’s start with a breakdown of what my housing expenses would be had I stayed in Las Vegas. I was originally planning on moving to a studio in the Veer Towers, an all-residential high-rise condominium complex at CityCenter. The main reason I ended up not going this route is be­cause I had some lease agreement conflicts with the property management company and ended up walking away from the contract. But, for this ex­am­ple, we can pre­tend like this lease went through.

For the past year, real estate in Las Vegas has been absolutely insane—prices have been climbing faster than they’ve ever gone up before. Many rich Cal­i­fornians came into town as a result of work-from-home arrangements during the pandemic, and even though Las Vegas cost of living is still much cheap­er than California, it is nowhere near as cheap as it used to be when I moved to Las Vegas in 2018.

The list price for the studio I was looking at was US$1,600.00 per month in rent, which was reasonable relative to the going market rate. I was able to get a small discount off that price, down to $1,550. Note that there is extremely low inventory right now, so I consider that discount to be unreasonably luck­y, but I’m still using the discounted rate, seeing as I managed to secure it.

These luxury high-rises on the Strip all have homeowners’ associations, and the HOA dues paid by the owner/landlord cover most utilities. The only ad­di­tion­al expenses I would have on top of that would be ~$50/mo. in electricity and ~$100/mo. in Internet service.

Thus, my monthly housing expenses would total $1,700, which averages out to $56.67 per day.

Next, my Marriott hotel situation.

To begin, I want to clarify that Marriott is a massive brand. Marriott is the largest hospitality provider in the world; if you narrow it down to the United States, they’re the hotel chain with the second most locations, just behind Wyndham. With this many properties, there is quite a noticeable range of op­tions when you take a look at all their hotels.

When I say I’m staying at Marriotts across the country, I do not mean I’m staying at places like the Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, or even the JW Marriott. In­stead, I’m staying almost entirely at brands like the Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, and Residence Inn. Marriott’s luxury hotels are designed to pamper you with amenities and give you a vacation experience you’ll never forget. Marriott’s “select” collection, as they call it, is designed to give you bare­bones lodg­ing at an affordable price that still meets the Marriott standard of quality, cleanliness, and safety.

Obviously, the nightly rate can vary substantially depending on where and when I’m staying. If I snag a spot with a promotion and/or an extended stay discount, I could get a room as low as $50 per night. On the other hand, if it’s the weekend and I’m passing through a tourist destination or just happen to be unlucky and am caught in the middle of a big event or convention, sometimes the cheapest I can get is $150 per night.

With all things being con­sid­ered, I would say that a fairly liberal estimate for an average cost of a night’s stay at a hotel is $75. If I scale that up to a 30-day month, the e­quiv­a­lent rate is $2,250. (Note that this is an all-inclusive rate that already includes taxes and fees, and obviously, there are no extra u­til­i­ty charges at a hotel.)

However, there are two extra things to account for here, the first being percentage-based rewards that functionally act as a discount.

Although you generally cannot pay rent with a credit card (or if you do, you incur an extra processing fee), it is commonplace and often highly en­cour­aged to pay for hotel stays with a credit card. I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, a card geared specifically towards rewarding those who travel. The Sap­phire Reserve gives you 3 reward points for every $1 you spend on travel, and each reward point can be redeemed for 1.5¢ cash value using the new “Pay Yourself Back” promotion. Even outside of the promotion, you can still get a redemption rate of 1.5¢ per point if you redeem your rewards on even more travel. This functionally acts as a 4.5% discount.

I am also a member of Marriott Bonvoy, Marriott’s loyalty program. Through this program, you get reward points derived from how much you spend on Marriott hotel rooms and services (excluding taxes). For each stay, I get a base number of reward points, plus an additional percentage-based bonus due to my high loyalty tier qualification. This, again, can depend on where I stay and what tier of status I happen to be at the time of the stay, but overall, this can functionally translate to being about a 10% discount, as a conservative estimate.

Combining the two rewards programs, I get back a­bout 14.5% of the cost of the hotel room. Using the previous estimate of $75 per night, I get back a­bout $10.88 of value per night, resulting in an effective nightly rate of $64.12, or an effective monthly equivalent rate of $1,923.75.

But it doesn’t end there. The second thing to account for here is that I am not spending the entire seven months, from June 1 to December 31, in hotel rooms. If I’m traveling for work or staying with friends and family, I have to keep paying rent if I’m committed to a residential lease agreement, but for hotel rooms, I simply stop paying for hotel rooms during that period.

During the seven-month period, I will be spending a total of about a month and a half at Tempo‘s company headquarters, spread out in intervals of a week or two. I generally make a routine visit every month or two, and will continue to do so during my travels. While I am in Southern California, I will stay at the residential sector of our offices and will not need to pay for hotel rooms out-of-pocket.

I will also be spending a total of about a month and a half with my parents at their house in the Chicagoland suburbs where I grew up.

As for staying with other friends and family, although I anticipate spending about a month or so with “free” lodging, I will still be purchasing them gro­cer­ies, restaurant meals, and/or gifts throughout my stay in order to show my appreciation for them hosting me at their home, and I anticipate the cost of this to be comparable to staying at a hotel room. As such, I will not be deducting any expenses for staying with friends or non-parental family mem­bers.

If I account for the free lodging at my company headquarters and with my parents, I subtract three months of lodging expenses from the seven months of travel. That calculates out to each night costing 4/7th of its rate, which brings the $64.12 down to $36.64 per night.

We’re almost done, but there’s one more thing to factor in. I’m driving my personal pickup truck to each destination, and there is an additional cost to op­er­ate my vehicle beyond what I normally would just by staying put in Las Vegas. I’m not going to count the mileage of going out and getting food or going on tours, but I will count the mileage of going from city to city.

After mapping out my tentative road trip route, I think I am going to drive approximately 7,000 extra miles (11,265 kilometers) over the span of the sev­en months. According to the IRS standard mileage rate, it costs an average of 56¢ per mile to op­er­ate the average vehicle (which includes things like fuel, maintenance, and depreciation).

Although my pickup truck is a mid-size model with a tonneau cover for improved fuel economy and is more efficient than the average pickup truck, it is still slightly more costly than the average vehicle. On the other hand, the standard mileage rate includes stuff like insurance, which I would’ve had to pay for anyway. I’m going to consider those factors as balancing themselves out, and just stick with the standard mileage rate.

The cost to operate a vehicle 7,000 miles is approximately $3,920. Dividing that by 7, we get a monthly rate of $560. Divide that again, this time by 30, and we get a daily rate of $18.67. This needs to be added to the $36.64 nightly rate, bringing it up to $55.31.

And before we come to the final conclusion, I want to address two more miscellaneous points.

First is my food situation. Yes, I won’t be able to cook while I’m on the road… except I haven’t really been cooking much lately anyway. Ever since the pan­demic happened and I got a lot of relief funding from the government, I’ve been going out of my way to ensure I support local businesses and res­tau­rants. Ever since March 2020, I have been eating almost exclusively at family-owned local res­tau­rants (as opposed to going grocery shopping and cook­ing for myself). I will continue to do so during my travels, and the cost of that will be net-neutral relative to pre-travel.

Second is the time it will take me to get from city to city, and the opportunity cost associated with that time. I did not factor this into the calculation be­cause I feel like I am putting in my time and effort of driving in exchange for receiving amazing experiences visiting new cities across the country. On top of that, driving, to some extent, is therapeutic to me, so I don’t mind sitting in my truck for a few hours at a time just listening to music and ob­serv­ing the scenery.

So the final verdict.

Renting a place in Las Vegas and living a “normal” life would cost me ~$56.67 per day, $1,700.00 per month, or $11,900.00 for the full seven-month period. Traveling the country and being a nomad would cost me approximately $55.31 per day, $1,659.20 per month, or $11,615.00 for the full seven-month period. (The num­bers don’t line up perfectly to their fractional counterparts due to rounding and decimals.)

Yes, in my unique situation, I am literally saving a tiny bit of money by doing things the way I am.

If you truly thought I didn’t account for the financial implications and consequences of my decision, then you don’t know me very well.




What other guides don’t tell you about finances for content creators and influencers

I’ve noticed that financial literacy has been on the rise exponentially in the past year. I imagine it is a combination of people studying finance on a need-to-know basis after hardship caused by the COVID-19 economic disaster, people being bored during the COVID-19 pandemic isolation period and want­ing to put their time to better use, and the ever-increasing accessibility of knowledge through the Internet.

I’m the Director of Operations of Tempo. We started out as an esports team and gaming strategy content website, but have since then expanded to be a gaming and interactive media production company and game development company. I joined back in 2015 when the company was a year old and have stuck with it—through all its ups and downs—for the past 6 years. As the head of corporate operations, I oversee and personally handle a lot of the com­pany’s legal, finance, and human resources matters.

As you’d expect from a role like that, I am one of two people in the entire company who have the security clearance to access any and all of our con­fi­dential and sensitive information. That gives me a unique insight into our employees’ and contractors’ lives and allows me to build a general profile of what the average esports player, content creator, and influencer is like from a financial sense.

This guide is not going to walk you through the fundamentals of being a content creator. I’m not going to tell you when you can quit your day job, or describe how you can best monetize your Twitch stream, or explain how to file your taxes as someone with no W-2 income. If you don’t know how to even get started being a sole proprietor, or if you don’t even know what that means, then you need to take care of that first.

Instead, this guide is going to point out some basic things about finances that I often never see covered in other guides. Maybe it’s because these are a bit more obscure, or maybe it’s because relaying this kind of information to someone may be perceived as brutal. Either way, I think this is information that you need to know to improve your baseline financial competency as a content creator or other kind of online influencer.

As a disclaimer, I live in the United States, and a lot of this advice is geared specifically for residents of the United States. Additionally, I am not an in­vest­ment advisor, certified accountant, financial advisor, or real estate agent… and even if I was, I wouldn’t be your advisor, accountant, or agent. To you, I am nothing more than a guy on the Internet writing blog posts on his personal website. If any of this information sounds helpful to you, make sure you consult with a real professional to see how this may apply to your unique, individual situation.


  1. You probably won’t have this job forever.

    You need to worry about your job security far more than normal people. If a “normie” loses their job, they can submit their résumé to a similar, comparable company and probably get hired somewhere else (unless they did something incredibly stupid and got involuntarily terminated due to their conduct). You, on the other hand, can’t really do that. How many companies do you think would want to hire you when your entire pro­fessional experience involves playing video games all day and talking to a camera?

    A lot can change in the content creation and entertainment industry. There might be some sort of accident that affects your face, and people stop watching your content because they no longer find you attractive. That sounds terrible, but you very well know that that’s definitely a possibility. Maybe, due to the stress and pressure of being a content creator, you start overeating and become overweight, and then people stop watching your content because they, again, no longer find you attractive.

    Even on a less personal level, trends change. What if you’re a video game streamer, but the video game (or maybe even the entire genre) that you’re good at becomes not as popular anymore? There are many examples of extremely popular StarCraft II players who just don’t pull viewership num­bers anymore because people don’t really play much StarCraft anymore. Or, what if your target audience gets older and consumes less content, while you fail to make a personal connection with the new younger generation?

    What if you randomly get canceled for something you didn’t do? What if someone just doesn’t like you or is jealous of your success, and decides to make up a story that turns your entire community against you? It’s considered taboo to ask questions or not believe the victim. Sure, you can file a defamation lawsuit, but what about your income source right now?

    Never take a single day as a content creator for granted. Save your money like your life depends on it, because it does. Take this especially to heart if you don’t have an academic background or degree beyond secondary school that you can fall back on if your content creation career goes awry.

    Treating yourself to something that makes you happy once in a while is very important, but I do not recommend splurging on anything big until you have five (yes, five) years’ worth of basic expenses saved up. This should obviously be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and the savings buffer can be reduced depending on your non-influencer qualifications, but the 3-6 months of expenses that normies save up for is not enough for you. Five years’ worth of expenses will cover things while you get back on your feet, enroll in a vocational or trade school, and build a up a new career.

  2. Invest in your own safety and security.

    As a public figure, there is a large target on your forehead. No matter how wholesome and well-liked you might be, there will still be people out there who dislike you. Most people take out their anger by sending you mean messages on social media, but there are people out there who are men­tal­ly unstable and will take things too far. If you are unlucky, you end up becoming a victim of one of these people.

    One of the best ways to invest your money is to spend a little bit more to make sure you are safe and secure in your home.

    It might feel good saving a ton of money by living in a regular house in a regular neighborhood with a bunch of other people, but that leaves you out in the open. It is fairly easy to find people’s addresses nowadays. For example, did you know that, if you are registered to vote and didn’t fill out a special form to tell your local government not to release your information, your address and party affiliation becomes public record? If you live in a regular house, someone can literally drive up to your home and threaten you in-person.

    Ever since moving out of my parents’ house, I have never lived in a publicly-accessible location. I’ve only lived in high-density apartments and condominium complexes that have 24/7 security. At the condo that I recently moved out of, you would need a credential to even drive into the building property at all, then you need a key fob to get into the building, a key fob to be able to use the elevator, then a physical key to unlock your door and bolt lock to your own unit. Does this absolutely guarantee that a predator won’t show up at my door? No, but it sure makes it borderline impossibly difficult.

    You are your own most valuable asset. If you have the funds available to upgrade your living situation, don’t underestimate the value of security guards and restricted-access building lobbies that stand between your door and the street. (On a related note, don’t fall for the false sense of security that an unattended “gated community” might give you—those are functionally useless, as people can climb over the gate, and the access code is often given away by your neighbors to delivery drivers.)

  3. Set up a wishlist of personal items you need or want.

    A lot of content creators and influencers have Amazon wish lists or other gift registries, but people tend to make two distinct mistakes. First, some people… don’t actually have wish lists. Second, some people put exclusively business items on their wish list but leave out all their personal items.

    It is in your best interest to buy business expenses with your own pre-tax income so you can write them off as deductions, and be gifted personal items from others so you end up saving as much of your post-tax income as possible. The magical element here is that you do not have to report your gifts as income (because they are gifts); taxes on gifts are (usually) paid by the giver, not the receiver.

    Imagine that there is something worth $70 that you have to buy for business. All you need to do to earn this purchase is to make $70 and buy the business item. Now imagine that there is something worth $70 that you have to buy for personal reasons. In order to afford this $70, you have to make about $100 in actual income, pay $30 in income taxes (this is just an example, and your tax bracket may be different), and then use the leftover $70 to buy your personal item. Consequently, if someone wants to give you money to buy this $70 personal product, it’s in their best interest to just straight-up buy and give you the $70 product, as opposed to giving you $70 in cash so you can buy it yourself—because, after taxes, $70 in cash won’t be enough anymore.

    There’s nothing wrong with putting high-value business expenses on your wish list, especially if you have a few whales who love to spend a ton of money on you. However, keep in mind that, if you still have personal expenses left that you need to account for, it’s not optimal for someone to buy you business products in lieu of personal products, if the value of both products are identical.

  4. Take full advantage of all your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

    Most people are aware of IRAs now and have started a Roth or Traditional IRA with their favorite brokerage or provider. If you’re going for a long-term savings plan, it is very important that you max out this account every single year before you put your money in any other kind of savings plat­form. For example, if you have an individual brokerage account and an IRA, and your investment objective is long-term growth, and you put mon­ey in your individual brokerage account prior to maxing out your IRA’s yearly contribution, you’re doing it wrong.

    (As a disclaimer, note that I said you should always be maxing out your IRA if you have a long-term savings plan. Early withdrawals from IRAs come with penalties, so if you need investments with the utmost liquidity for an upcoming big purchase, then putting that income in tax-advantaged retirement accounts may not be the best course of action. If you are unsure how to proceed, consult with your own tax professional prior to committing to any investments.)

    But let’s say that you’ve already put in the maximum allotted amount into your Roth IRA this year, but you still have some leftover funds that you want to invest for long-term growth. Then you would put that money into your individual brokerage account, right? … Well, no.

    As a sole proprietor, you have access to more tax-advantaged retirement savings options. Before you start buying index funds on your regular brokerage account, do some research and look into SEP-IRAs, i401(k)s, and SIMPLE IRAs. These are all special retirement programs for business owners (and all content creators and influencers who make Form 1099-NEC income count as business owners, even if you might be your own employee), and they may carve a fairly large chunk away from your tax liability.

    For example, I have a SEP-IRA with Vanguard. Each year, I can contribute several thousand dollars into this SEP-IRA, depending on how much taxable income I made that year—and this is on top of the $6,000 I put in my Roth IRA. These several thousand dollars in my SEP-IRA are tax-deductible, which means it’s as if I had never made this income to begin with. Within this SEP-IRA, I am able to invest my money as if it was a normal brokerage account. Seeing as my objective is long-term growth, I usually buy growth-oriented Admiral Shares, a special type of index fund by Vanguard.

  5. Be cautious of aggressive Schedule C deductions if you’re planning on getting a traditional mortgage soon.

    The real estate market has been absolutely insane lately, and you might be someone who wants to get in on the hype. Warnings of emotional in­vesting aside, if you do truly want to purchase a house, chances are, you’ll need to borrow some money from a lender and get a mortgage.

    This process is fairly straightforward for normies because they’re on a set sal­a­ry. The lender will contact their employer, check on their job se­cu­ri­ty, verify their employment, and base their approval amount on their sal­a­ry. However, independent contractors generally don’t have set sal­a­ries—you never know how much advertising revenue or sponsorships or tips/donations you’re going to get each month—so lending to an independent contractor is inherently higher-risk.

    The way banks calculate how much they lend to an independent contractor is to look at your Schedule C in your yearly Form 1040 filing to the IRS. From there, they look at your net income (not gross income), re-add business expenses for home office use and depreciation, and subtract the remaining 50% of your meals deduction to find your overall yearly income. They look at the previous two years of tax returns for this; if your in­come has increased year-over-year, they take the average of the two, and if your income has decreased, they use the lower value.

    If you’re intuitive, you may see where this is going. If you take a lot of business expense deductions, your net income is going to decrease, and your mortgage amount is going to decrease as well. This is because lenders are using the information on your Schedule C while honoring the true spirit of the concept of “business deductions,” in the sense that, the only reason you were able to make that amount of gross income is because you had to spend your own money too. Thus, they don’t see deductions as ever having been your money, but rather, a resource you needed to use to make your income.

    For people with squeaky clean Schedule Cs, this might not be a problem. However, if you smudge your deductions a bit or walk within the gray area, it may seem counterintuitive to have a lower mortgage approval amount, even though you’re keeping more money by giving less of it to the gov­ern­ment in taxes.

    I personally faced this problem for years, and this is the conclusion I came to: If you’re rich enough that you’re willing to pay income taxes on your money, then the lender can feel comfortable taking that money into consideration when determining how much you can borrow. If you’re taking a ton of deductions, the bank has no concrete way to prove that you’re not just scraping by and taking those deductions because you have to, so it’s in their best interest to not take the risk and just disregard that from being eligible income.

    And yes, there is yet another side to this—independent contractors can just elect not to take deductions (because you are not required by law to take deductions), thus artificially inflating how much money it appears like they’re making. Banks would then base their lending decision on this information, you end up wasting more money on taxes, you get a bigger mortgage, and you increase your chances of not being able to make pay­ments and defaulting on the loan.

    This is obviously a fairly involved process, and I have no be-all-end-all advice for you apart from doing research on this and calculating a good bal­anced situation for yourself for your taxes. The point here is, don’t be caught off guard that this system exists in this manner, and educate your­self about how mortgages work (and possibly some alternative lending solutions) at least two years before you plan on purchasing a house.

As you’d imagine, this only scratches the surface of finances for sole proprietors. I’d classify most of this as basic information, or low-intermediate at best—and this is why a lot of people off-load their finances to a certified accountant.

I mentioned this at the top of this blog post, but to reiterate, if any of this seems useful to you, make sure you do your own research and reach out to your own advisors and professionals to figure out how this may apply to your unique, individual situation.




My non-registered, non-certified investment advice for you

As is hopefully clear by the title, I want to point out that I am not a registered investment advisor and do not have the qualifications to become one. This anecdote outlines my personal experiences only, and is not to be used as guidance to manage your assets in lieu of a certified professional.

With that being said, my advice to you is actually very similar to the disclaimer above, and it is: Do not trick yourself into making unjustifiable in­vest­ment decisions based on others’ experiences if you are not fully informed of the entire situation.

The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I’ve been chatting quite a bit lately with my friends about investments. Most have listened to my ex­pe­ri­ences and intelligently used them as learning opportunities to do their own research about the related topics, but a few others… have made some ques­tion­able decisions.

It’s fun to talk about the wild and unexpected nature of the stock market, and it can be thrilling to share stories of huge successes or massive failures. What isn’t fun is talking about the steady growth of reliable index funds. Thus, if you were to ever ask me about my investments, I will probably talk about meme stocks, because talking about meme stocks makes for an inherently more interesting conversation.

A very important thing to remember is that the ratio of topics in a conversation does not necessarily correlate with the ratio of my actual investment dis­tri­bution. That means, if I spend 95% of my time talking with you about meme stocks and the remaining 5% about index funds, that does not mean I own 95% meme stocks and 5% index funds.

If you misinterpret that and assume I have 95% meme stocks, then proceed to align your own portfolio to have 95% meme stocks, then you have prob­ably made an incredibly stupid decision. That isn’t to say that you won’t see success—if you’re lucky, you could become a millionaire overnight, and I never said that there can’t be stupid millionaires—but you have just as likely of a chance of losing almost everything.

I always keep that last point in mind—that you have a chance of losing almost everything. That’s why the amount I invest in meme stocks and other extremely high-risk securities is limited only to the amount that I am comfortable losing. I am not comfortable losing my entire portfolio, so I choose to put a vast majority of it in things that I know will not suddenly vanish overnight.

I have a simple way to visualize this. Here is a table of the diversity of my portfolio.


This includes money in my online savings account and a tiny amount in my checking account, as well as money market settlement funds for money that has been transferred to my brokerage in preparation for investment that I haven’t had an opportunity to use yet.


Index funds – Domestic

This includes a variety of United States index funds ranging anywhere from the general S&P 500, to funds specifically targeting objec­tives like growth and dividends, covering across a variety of small- to large-capitalization companies.


Index funds – International

This provides me with exposure to the international stock market, including both developed and emerging international economies.


Target retirement funds

I use Vanguard to manage my tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Within my Roth IRA and SEP-IRA, I keep my money in the target retirement funds VFFVX and VTTSX, which are funds managed by Vanguard with dynamic composition so it prioritizes rapid growth during youth and stability closer to retirement. These target retirement funds have a mixture of domestic and international index funds, as well as some bonds later as retirement years approach, which is why I itemized this out separately.



When I was a much younger investor, I was far less tolerant of risk for two main reasons: (1) I overestimated the risk and volatility of index funds, which was caused by my inexperience with investing, and (2) I had low net worth so I had more of an incentive to pro­tect what I had. I bought some bonds back then, but haven’t added to my bond balance since; I figured I might as well keep the bonds I already purchased, seeing as it’s a very small portion of my portfolio.


Real estate investment trusts (REITs)

REITs are a way for you to diversify your portfolio to gain exposure to real estate without having to go out and purchase a property. I am definitely interested in purchasing actual real estate sometime in the future, but until then, I decided to invest a small amount into REITs.



I’ve researched and experimented with cryptocurrency for a while, but for now, I’ve settled on owning some Bitcoin and Ethereum.


Speculative stocks

These are individual stocks that I purchase directly through a brokerage, rather than stocks that are included in index funds or ETFs. As of right now, a majority of my speculative selections have been in travel companies, but these are stocks that I actively trade depending on where I think the market is headed. I do this primarily for fun, with capital growth only being a secondary objective.


Meme stocks

Just so I can say I was a part of the retail investor movement, I own shares in GameStop (GME), AMC Entertainment (AMC), Blackberry (BB), and other strange securities as recommended by the Reddit community Wall Street Bets.


If you loosely categorize my investments, you can say that I have 94.39% in “safe” holdings and 5.61% in “dangerous” holdings.

Let’s assume that disaster strikes. Bitcoin crashes and falls from $58,000 to just $4,000 like it was throughout a lot of early 2019, losing 93%+ of its value. Ethereum faces a similarly proportional crash. COVID-19 mutates into COVID-9001 and locks down the entire planet again, causing travel companies’ stocks to plummet to only 20% of their current value. And of course, GameStop, AMC, and Blackberry all go entirely bankrupt. In this theoretical sce­nar­io, I lose 5.11% of my portfolio.

Not ideal, but I’m ok with that.

An even greater mitigating factor is that this loss is based on the current value of my portfolio. If you’re familiar with cryptocurrency, you know how fast it’s risen in value. If you calculate my losses relative to cost basis rather than current value, then the percentage of money I would lose is even less.

So if you’re ever interested in buying Bitcoin or shares of GameStop because of me or someone else talking excitedly about the topic, and you want to “copy” us because we seem to sound like knowledgeable investors, keep the table above in mind. Don’t let our excitement falsely trick you into thinking that we’ve gone all-in on meme stocks.

To be clear, this is not me telling you whether you should or should not go all-in on meme stocks; this is me making sure you know that I absolutely did not.




How not to steal

My DoorDash account got hackedToday felt like a long day. I’ve been going to sleep and waking up relatively late lately, but I had to get up before 9 AM PST this morning for class. My sleep tracker says I got less than 6 hours of restful sleep last night, which is not very good considering I have an overactive thyroid and need a lot of sleep. Classes have also been difficult lately, because sitting in a teleconference for remote learning during the pan­dem­ic doesn’t really engage my mind as much as traditional classroom settings do, so it’s a constant strug­gle not to fall asleep the entire time.

At 4 PM, my class finally wrapped up. I spent about an hour catching up on some work tasks that I missed during the day, then laid down in bed to watch some videos and relax.

After I finished petting the cats and getting comfortable in bed, I got an email notification from DoorDash. Apparently my account had a new log-in from an unrecognized device. I definitely didn’t just log into DoorDash, and I would never commit such as sin as to use a device with iOS, so I came to the conclusion that my account got hacked. I got out of bed and logged into my computer.

My credit card protects me against unauthorized charges, but that claim process is a hassle and I wanted to stop the theft from happening before the suspect had an opportunity to follow through. As quickly as possible, I changed my password and removed my saved credit card details from my account. Not only did this stop the suspect from completing the checkout process, but it would’ve also thrown an error, be­cause I have a free DashPass subscription courtesy of the Chase Sapphire Reserve that requires a CSR credit card number to be tied to the account. By removing my card details, I changed my account’s eli­gi­bil­i­ty status on particular promotions, and DoorDash would refresh the storefront and reapply any relevant delivery and service fees.

That worked, because the purchase never went through. However, during the few minutes it took me to do this, the suspect did a little work on my account.

Once I was done locking down my account, I saw a few things pop up that weren’t there before.

My DoorDash account got hacked

In addition to informing me that the suspect was interested in purchasing 30 traditional wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, they were also gracious enough to provide me with their address and phone number.

I looked up their address on Google Maps and saw that it pointed to a dormitory on a university campus. I looked up some local law enforcement agen­cies that had jurisdiction over the area and found a university police department, city police department, and county sheriff. I pulled up the in­for­ma­tion of the university police department and gave them a call to let them know what happened.

An officer picked up the phone, listened to my story, and passed my call onto someone else, as he was unsure how to proceed. A different officer came on the line, listened to my story, and said that this is the first time something of this nature had been reported to them. The officer ran a records check for the phone number in the description of the DoorDash delivery address, and it came back as a match to a current student.

I let the officer know that I was not interested in pressing charges—this is literally a hungry college kid who made a mistake, and I don’t want to damage their reputation and future by putting them through the criminal justice system. (Also, even if this did go to court, unless the student confessed, it would be extremely difficult to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, as the defense could claim that an unrelated third party hacked my account and at­tempted to send food to this student without their knowledge or consent.)

However, I did say that I would like the police to at least speak with the student as a preventative measure to discourage the student from doing some­thing like this again, if it was indeed the student. I also informed them that this could end up being a liability issue for the university because, if this student was on dormitory Wi-Fi, they were technically using university technology systems to commit a cybercrime across state lines, making it a federal offense.

The officer noted everything and said that he would go with my wishes and just process the student through the university system instead of going through the court system. I followed up via email with the officer and provided him with the evidence above (unedited and uncensored, of course) for their records. Due to privacy reasons, I imagine I won’t ever find out what actually happened, but hopefully me doing this helped set a student on a better path to a brighter future, and protected a potential future different victim from credit card fraud.

So if you ever had plans to hack someone’s DoorDash account and get yourself some free food, I highly discourage you from doing so… not only because you shouldn’t steal, but also because providing your address and phone number to your victim generally isn’t the best idea.