Investing US$10,000.00 in the stock market – Parkzer vs. DougDoug’s Twitch chat

Disclaimer: I am not a registered investment advisor and do not have the qualifications to become one. Even if I was one, I would not be your investment advisor; to you, I am nothing more than a random guy on the Internet writing in his personal blog. This content is intended for comedic and en­ter­tain­ment purposes only. Everyone’s situation is uniquely different, so consult a certified professional if you need guidance with your own financial strat­e­gy.

 
A few days ago, my friend Doug Wreden, a broadcast personality who streams on Twitch and makes video content on YouTube, asked if I wanted to join in on a live event he was doing with his community where, together, they would invest $10,000 into the stock market. Unfortunately, I was overloaded with time-sensitive work that entire day and couldn’t join in live, but we decided to do the next best thing, which was for me to participate after-the-fact.

Thus, “Parkzer vs. DougDoug’s Twitch chat” was born.

 
Rules:

  • Invest US$10,000.00 into ten individual companies (no index funds, mutual funds, ETFs, or bonds).
  • No active trading is permitted after the initial purchase (though reinvesting dividends is allowed), and stocks must be held for one year.
  • The winner is the team with the highest account balance after one year.
  • Any profits beyond cost basis will be donated to charity.

 
Doug has very little investing experience (apart from purchasing Dogecoin as a joke and making a +800% return), so he relied on his community’s as­sis­tance to research companies and pick out the best stocks. Doug uses Robinhood as his brokerage, so that basically speaks for itself. On the other hand, investing and wealth management is one of my favorite hobbies, and I’ve taken it very seriously ever since my first paying job.

However, I knew I couldn’t let this make me get complacent. There are plenty of studies proving that even monkeys randomly throwing darts on a wall of stock ticker symbols can consistently beat investment advisors. Just because I’ve been doing this for longer doesn’t necessarily mean I am go­ing to perform better by default. I needed to es­tab­lish a plan.

 
First, I had to make some predictions and assumptions about what would happen in the coming year. Nobody can predict the future, but what I can do is use current events and cultural trends to make educated guesses. From there, I had to determine which sectors of the market are more and less likely to perform well in the given conditions. Next, I found some companies within those aforementioned sectors that I thought had potential for growth. Fi­nal­ly, I had to trim down my list to ten of my best candidates.

 
I made three major assumptions upon which I would base my investment decisions:

  1. I think the coronavirus pandemic will continue through sinusoidal phases of getting better and worse throughout the year. Although the latest var­i­ant has not been as deadly, it has evolved to become far more contagious. We don’t know how it will mutate next, and with people getting com­pla­cent, this is a ripe opportunity for COVID-19 to cause great damage when we least expect it, resulting in a stock market crash.
  2. I think it is more likely for the stock market to stabilize or fall than it is to rise in the coming year. I think the current state of the stock market is not as healthy as it may seem—it is only this high due to absurd inflation and government policy stimulating economic growth. Once things return to normal and people start repaying their COVID-19 disaster relief loans, money will be taken out of circulation and the stock market will revert back to what it “should” be.
  3. I think the development and modernization of core systems will get faster. Technology companies did well the past few years, but it will still re­quire more work to roll out their advancements infrastructurally so it turns from a luxury into something more commonplace. In simpler terms, I think we have a lot of great concepts, prototypes, and first-generation innovations, but now is the time to keep pushing development so it can be used not only by the elite, but also by the general public.

 
With my grim outlook on the future of the stock market, it is clear that I would have to pick sectors that perform well during a recession. Out of the sec­tors defined under the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS), I knew I wanted to focus on the following:

  • Consumer staples. No matter how bad the economy, people still need to eat and use core household products. When people have less disposable in­come, they tend to shift their money away from consumer discretionary and into consumer staples.
  • Healthcare. Just because the economy is bad doesn’t mean you’re not going to get sick. On top of that, we are still in the middle of a pandemic caused by a virus that is actively mutating. The healthcare industry is booming, ignoring the fact that that’s probably not the most sensitive way to describe people’s misfortune.
  • Utilities. Similar to the above, people still use utilities during a recession, even if they might try to conserve spending and be more conscious of waste­fulness.
  • Real estate. Again, as you might have guessed, people still need a place to live, even if the economy is bad. However, real estate also bundles in de­vel­op­ment projects, which ties in with the infrastructural advancements I mentioned above that I think will happen.

 
I picked three well-established, reputable companies from each of the sectors above, plus three companies from the remaining sectors not listed above. From there, I took the list of 15 and narrowed it down to 10.

Here are my ten stocks picks with the amount of money I allocated to each company, alongside Doug and his community’s stock picks and their al­lo­ca­tions:

NextEra Energy, Inc. (NEE)

$   800.00

Waste Management, Inc. (WM)

$   800.00

Proctor & Gamble Co. (PG)

$ 1,200.00

Walmart, Inc. (WMT)

$ 1,200.00

Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (BIO)

$ 1,400.00

Pfizer, Inc. (PFE)

$ 1,400.00

American Tower Corp. (AMT)

$   800.00

Prologis, Inc. (PLD)

$   800.00

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. (DLR)

$   600.00

Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)

$ 1,000.00
 

NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA)

$ 1,250.00 

Aspen Aerogels, Inc. (ASPN)

$   750.00 

Sony Group Corp. (SONY)

$ 1,250.00 

Netflix, Inc. (NFLX)

$   750.00 

Intel Corp. (INTC)

$   750.00 

CRISPR Therapeutics, AG (CRSP)

$ 1,000.00 

Hasbro, Inc. (HAS)

$ 1,000.00 

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)

$   750.00 

Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST)

$ 1,500.00 

The Coca-Cola Co. (KO)
PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP)

$ 1,000.00*

*The $1000 for Doug’s final stock selection is split evenly between Coca-Cola and Pepsi as a mini-game between “A Crew” and “Z Crew,” two halves of Doug’s Twitch chat community split by the first letter of their username, to see which brand (and consequently, which crew) has a higher return on in­vestment.

From these stock picks, I think it becomes fairly clear that my portfolio was built not to grow faster, but to decline slower. Thus, if the economy con­tin­ues to do well, Doug’s portfolio will defeat mine, but the economy slows down, my portfolio’s balance will conclude the year higher.

 
I’ve loaded all of our stock picks into some portfolio analysis software, and I might do quarterly (or even monthly, depending on level of interest) re­ports on the performance of our portfolios, showing who is in the process of winning. At the very least, I’ll be providing some statistics, charts, and tables for Doug to be able to review on his live stream.

Seeing as this is ultimately going to be for charity, I wish great success for Doug and his Twitch chat… with the caveat that his portfolio yields 1¢ less profit than mine. GL

 

Edit (January 28, 2022):

It’s been a week since we started this little competition, so I decided to go back and edit this blog post to add in some bonus content in the form of charts and a graph.

First, one thing to note is that, if you’re attentive to the numbers, you’ll notice that Doug’s cost basis is not a flat $10,000.00. This is because, when he was picking out stocks on his Twitch stream, he intended to invest $500 in Coca-Cola (as in, the competitor to Pepsi), but instead, he accidentally invested it into the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated. This happened because the bottling company’s ticker symbol is COKE, while the Coca-Cola Company’s ticker symbol is KO; Doug and his Twitch chat got those two mixed up.

After I informed Doug of this error, he sold all his shares of COKE and realized $26 in profit, then put all $526 into KO. I was not aware that he was going to do this, otherwise I would have advised him to only put $500.04 back into KO, because that would’ve been the equivalent return on investment from KO from that time period. Thus, because of the transaction, Doug’s numbers are going to be a little bit off.

Hopefully the final results won’t come down to $26, but if our portfolios are indeed within $26 of each other at the end of one year when we determine the winner, we’re going to need to do a bit of math to see how much this affected Doug’s earnings.

After five market days, this is how our portfolios are looking right now:

For comparison, if we had invested the $10,000 into the S&P 500 instead, it would have grown to $10,230—$97 higher than my portfolio, and $363 higher than Doug’s.

Here is a graph of the price change of each of our portfolios, alongside the chart for the S&P 500. Keep in mind that these are by percentage, and are relative values, so this might not be the most intuitive graph. I ideally would have wanted to graph the total value of each of our portfolios over time in dollar amounts, but it seems like that is not a feature offered by my portfolio tracking and analysis software.

 

—§—

 

Investment allocation breakdown for 2021 Q4

Another quarter, another investment allocation breakdown. Note that this is a series and a lot of the commentary in this breakdown builds off the pre­vi­ous breakdowns, so I recommend that you take a look at my investment allocation breakdown for 2021 Q3 first, if you haven’t already.

Like always, keep in mind that I am not a registered investment advisor, and even if I was, I would not be your advisor. To you, I am nothing more than a guy on the Internet writing on his personal website. This blog post is intended to be strictly anecdotal, and I am in no way suggesting or implying that you should copy my strategy. Everyone’s situation is uniquely different, so be sure to consult a certified professional if you have any questions or need any guidance with your own financial strategy.

Cash

Again, at the end of this quarter, I’m still a little bit high on my cash allocation.

However, I have a good reason for it this time—it’s the end of the tax year. One of my favorite things to do on January 1 of every year is to max out my retirement and tax-advantaged accounts, such as my Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA), Health Savings Ac­count (HSA), and Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP-IRA) (to the extent that I can predict a base­line of the coming year’s net income).

Because of this, I have a hefty chunk of cash waiting for January 1, 2022 so I can dump it into all these accounts, primarily because I prescribe to the philosophy that time in the market is better than attempting to time the market, and also because I don’t particularly have a propensity towards gambling or taking financial risks.

 11.76%

Index funds – Domestic

There has been very little change when it comes to my index fund investment strategy—I put a majority of money into broad-market index funds and leave it there to passively grow. I don’t really have additional comments for this category.

 28.43%

Index funds – International

This section is the same as above—there are no substantial changes since last quarter, and I don’t have any additional commentary for this category.

  8.00%

Target retirement funds

Just to clarify, the percentage allocation in target retirement funds is shrinking not because I’m taking early distributions or anything, but because my wealth in general is growing, so I’m consistently putting money into other areas of my portfolio, while I only con­trib­ute money to target retirement funds twice a year (once on January 1 and once when I finish my annual tax return and know my max­imum SEP-IRA contribution amount for the previous year).

As a side note, I briefly touched on this the very first time I did an investment allocation breakdown nearly a year ago, but I figured I’d comment on these two points again with a bit greater detail:

First, the reason I separate this category out is because target retirement funds are managed by a brokerage as a mutual fund that auto­matically adjusts its asset mixture over time. Because of this, at any given moment, a target retirement fund can have a different allo­ca­tion of all the different kinds of categories I present in this breakdown.

For example, a portion of my target retirement fund holdings is in VFFVX, which, as of the final day of last month, is composed of 54.9% of the total domestic stock market, 35.5% of the total international stock market, 6.6% of the total domestic bond market, and 3.0% of the total international bond market. Going through and checking on the allocation each quarter and disbursing the per­cent­ages to each of my existing table categories is a hassle, so I decided to just give it its own row in the table.

Second, the reason I use a target retirement fund with a marginally higher management fee, as opposed to managing my allocation my­self, is because I want to leave my retirement accounts in a “set it and forget it” state. I already actively tweak my portfolio al­lo­ca­tions in my regular brokerage accounts, and I’m fine with letting my tax-advantaged retirement accounts grow passively without my attention.

 19.83%

Real estate investment trusts (REITs)

I’ve continued to add more money to REITs, and my percentage allocation has increased since last quarter. In my previous breakdown, I explained why I’m investing more in REITs now, and in summary, it is just a way to try and spread my money out to diversify against a potential stock market crash.

I’m also sort of treating this like my “down payment fund” on a house. If real estate prices stabilize and I end up purchasing a property sometime in the near future, I’ll probably sell some of my REITs and use it to buy the aforementioned property to ensure that I’m still maintaining good diversification and not overinvesting into real estate.

 17.76%

Bonds

I’m always doing research and learning more about finance, and I recently learned about Series I Sav­ings Bonds, a special type of bond that is hedged against inflation. I’ve owned bonds in the past and have sold them due to their poor growth potential, but seeing as the government just printed an astronomical amount of money during the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation has skyrocketed, Series I Sav­ings Bonds end up being a lucrative investment—the current rate as of today is 7.12% in annual interest.

I didn’t mention this earlier because I wanted to save it for the bond section, but another reason I’m holding onto more cash than my target is because I also want to purchase more Series I Sav­ings Bonds once the new calendar year comes around and the maximum pur­chase refreshes.

  4.21%

Charitable fund

I think one of the best ways to learn something is to just go and do it, and following my desire to master everything related to prac­ti­cal everyday finance, I created a charitable fund via a Giving Account through Fidelity Charitable. Fidelity is one of two bro­ker­ages with which I have an account (the other being Vanguard), so the Giving Account creation process was quick, easy, and straight­for­ward.

Fidelity Charitable accepts tax-deductible donations that they will then invest on your behalf, and you can use the post-growth a­mount to donate to your preferred 501(c)(3) charities without having to pay additional taxes on the growth.

I’ve set up my account to invest in the total domestic stock market, so I will likely just lump this in together with the domestic index fund category in my allocation breakdown table, but I still wanted to separate this out as its own line item for this quarter because it’s something new.

  0.43%

Cryptocurrency

Yes, I did indeed increase my cryptocurrency allocation once again. However, it’s probably not what you think… I’m not falling into the gambler’s fallacy or any other kind of obsessive or unhealthy chance- or luck-based investment strategy.

Like I mentioned in the previous two sections, I like to be a hands-on learner because I feel like being directly involved helps you un­der­stand the topic far faster and more effectively than being a bystander or observer. Because of this, I am continuing to put more money into different kinds of cryptocurrency and actively researching different kinds of blockchain technology, and in the process, seeing what’s happening with it first-hand while having a personal stake in the outcome.

This is particularly important to me because we’re going to be integrating blockchain technology in­to Tempo Games’ new upcoming strategy game, so it’s critical for me to have an intimate understanding of it, even though I’m still a degree separated from it due to primarily overseeing corporate operations (as opposed to game design or game development).

As I mentioned last quarter, I’ve lost quite a bit of money investing in cryptocurrency so far, but at the very least, it’s a decent op­por­tu­ni­ty for some tax loss harvesting. As of now, my holdings consist of approximately 60% Bitcoin, 30% Ethereum, 4% Solana, 4% Car­dano, and 2% miscellaneous coins.

  8.78%

Speculative stocks and individual companies

To my eyes, my “speculative stock” fund is almost like my “gambling fund,” in that I pick stocks that I think are going to do well, but invest with the expectation that, even if I lose everything, I won’t be upset.

I chose to slim down a bit on speculative stocks compared to last quarter because I also see a large portion of cryptocurrency investing as being on-par with gambling, and I wanted to lower the amount of money that I was putting into extremely high-risk investments. A secondary reason is, I have limited time to put into doing securities research, and if I’m going to be putting that time into researching cryptocurrency and other blockchain technology, it means I’m not going to be making as educated decisions about the securities of publicly-traded companies, so I am adjusting my allocation accordingly to ensure I’m optimizing my time-to-money ratio.

  0.80%

From what I foresee, apart from the routine spike in target retirement funds that I already justified, there aren’t going to be substantial changes during the first quarter of 2022. With that being said, if anything new does happen, I’ll be back in three months with another investment breakdown… or I might just do one anyway regardless, to maintain the cadence of analyzing my portfolio, because if anything, it’s also good to do for my own benefit.

 

—§—

 

Investment allocation breakdown for 2021 Q3

The last time I did a breakdown like this, I hinted at the fact that I might want to start doing this on a quarterly basis, depending on how much I’ve shuf­fled around my investment allocation. I figured I would follow through with that and do a breakdown for the third quarter of 2021.

Like usual, keep in mind that I am not a registered investment advisor, and even if I was, I would not be your advisor—I am nothing more to you than a guy on the Internet writing on his website. This blog post is intended to be strictly anecdotal, and I am in no way suggesting or implying that you should copy my strategy. Everyone’s situation is uniquely different, so be sure to consult with a certified professional if you have any questions or need any guid­ance.

 
With that being said, here is a revised breakdown of my investment allocation:

Cash

I like to hover around 5-10% in cash reserves, so 12% is a tiny bit over my target.

This quarter’s cash reserves are about the same as last quarter’s. As a reminder, “cash” here includes stuff like my savings and checking account, but also includes settlement funds, i.e., money waiting to be used to purchase stocks, or money set aside in a cash reserve mutual fund in case I need to use my HSA debit card.

Since I set off on my cross-country road trip, I also keep a few hundred dollars of paper cash with me in case I run into a situation where credit cards are not accepted (such as exchanging for quarters to use a washing machine), which is not something I have ever done before until now.

 12.75%

Index funds – Domestic

I have put a marginal amount of more money into United States domestic index funds, but overall have avoided doing so because I spent this past quarter focusing on other investment objectives. You’ll notice that the percentage that domestic index funds take up in my portfolio has decreased because I have put a substantial amount of additional money in other categories.

Within domestic index funds, 39.48% of it is in the total stock market, 36.31% in stocks geared specifically towards growth, and 24.21% in stocks geared specifically towards high dividend yields.

 30.97%

Index funds – International

If you scour the Internet for investment advice, there’s a lot of speculation out there. One thing that I do believe is that the United States stock market is unusually high right now, and I am slightly concerned about putting more money into domestic index funds in case there is a sudden crash. However, I also believe in the fact that you should not try to time the market, because even professionals will miss more often than not.

With that being said, I still wanted to keep a steady stream of money going into investments, so I decided to diversify a little bit more by opting to put more money into international index funds. My allocation went up from 6.28% to just shy of 10%.

  9.99%

Target retirement funds

I make marginal tweaks to target retirement funds based off projected income, and I incrementally add more money throughout the year depending on how much I think I will be able to put into my SEP-IRA. However, this category generally only gets a hefty in­crease twice a year—on January 1, when I dump several thousands of dollars in for the new year, and when taxes are due, once I know precisely what my net income was and how much in qualified SEP-IRA contributions that translates to.

 24.03%

Real estate investment trusts (REITs)

This category was my biggest increase, up from just 2.56% last quarter. In a similar vein to the topic I touched in the section about international index funds, I want to diversify and not commit too hard to domestic index funds.

In a stock market crash or a recession, there are a few categories of investments that are more resistant to the drop than others, and real estate is one of them. No matter how bad the economy is, you still need a place to live, and REITs will continue to pay dividends as long as people continue paying their rent and transacting in real estate.

Buying actual real estate (i.e., a physical property) is something I considered, but I decided I wasn’t ready for that yet, so I concluded REITs are the next best thing for my current situation. I mentioned websites like Fundrise last quarter and how I didn’t follow through with using their platform; I’ve maintained that same strategy for this quarter as well, and have my exposure through the Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX) instead.

 15.15%

Cryptocurrency

I’m not one of those religious believers in cryptocurrency, but I think that’s mainly because I don’t really know that much about it, so a lot of it still seems borderline foreign to me. I’m also not a non-believer either, so I’m continuing to invest a small slice of my port­fo­lio into crypto.

Since last quarter, cryptocurrency prices have recovered a noticeable amount. Since last quarter, I also invested into a new crypto­cur­ren­cy, Ethereum Classic, which now composes 1.44% of my cryptocurrency allocation (i.e., a microscopic sliver). The remainder of my cryptocurrency allocation is composed of 58.54% Bitcoin and 40.02% Ethereum.

  5.23%

Speculative stocks

I’ve more than doubled my investment allocation in speculative stocks, but it’s still a tiny portion of my total portfolio—not even 2%. If anything, this should be considered my “gambling budget,” where I pick stocks that I think will do well, and trade them more for fun than for profit. Like last quarter, a majority of these holdings remain mostly with companies in the travel industry.

  1.75%

Private companies

I bundle together the shares of publicly-traded companies that I hold in the “speculative stocks” category, but there are a few private companies whose stock I have purchased as an early investor.

Again, this should mostly be considered my “gambling budget,” but this specifically is on the extreme end of “high risk, high reward.” This is money that I am pretty much expecting to lose, and if one of these companies happens to make it big, I will get back an as­tro­nomic return.

One thing to note is that this does not include stock options for my current employer; I have opted not to include those stock options at all as part of this investment portfolio breakdown, and will likely continue to avoid doing so unless the company hits some mile­stone where they become liquid. I’d say this is sort of like how I don’t include the value of my paid-off pickup truck in this either—I don’t really consider either of those assets as something I would include in an investment portfolio.

  0.13%

I can’t promise that I actually will end up doing this every single quarter, but if I have any notable portfolio changes, I’ll make another breakdown… if anything, mainly for me to be able to look back and see how my investment strategy has evolved over the years.

 

—§—

 

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.

 

—§—

 

I sold all my meme stocks

A little over three months ago, I wrote a blog post that warned investors from going all-in on meme stocks, and I clarified that just because I enjoy talk­ing about meme stocks doesn’t mean all my holdings are in meme stocks. I also provided a table containing a fairly detailed breakdown of my in­vest­ment allocation to show that an overwhelming majority of my money is in “safe” in­vest­ments.

Since that time, both GameStop and AMC’s stock prices shot up again. With the volatility of meme stocks and the fact that it appears like retail investors might just cannibalizing themselves, I figured that making any profit at all off of meme stocks is better than losing money. I made the careful but prompt decision to exit meme stocks, and proceeded to sell all my shares in GameStop, AMC, Blackberry, and Nokia over the span of a hand­ful of days.

I made a profit of just over US$700.

Meme stocks were fun, and I was happy to be a part of the retail investor movement. But, being a resident of Las Vegas, I, more than anyone else, should know that it’s better to quit while you’re ahead.

(To be abundantly clear, and as a disclaimer, I am not a registered investment advisor and do not have the qualifications to become one. This blog post is intended to be strictly anecdotal, and I am in no way suggesting or implying that you should copy my strategy. Everyone’s situation is uniquely different, so be sure to consult with a certified professional if you have any questions or need any guidance.)

 
With that being said, here is a revised breakdown of my investment allocation:

Cash

I try to keep a minimal amount of my assets in cash because, not only do you lose value on cash from inflation, but it also serves as greater opportunity cost from potential growth. My cash holdings were fairly high last time simply because of the timing—I just hadn’t had a chance to take money in my settlement fund and move it into investments. This is down from 17.70% from last time.

 12.60%

Index funds – Domestic

My allocation in domestic index funds remains mostly the same. I can also provide a breakdown of subcategories within this category: I hold 35.82% in the total United States stock market, 38.35% in stocks geared specifically towards growth, and 25.83% in stocks geared specifically towards high dividend yields.

 36.10%

Index funds – International

My allocation in international index funds remains mostly the same.

  6.28%

Target retirement funds

This category got a slight increase in allocation because, since my previous breakdown, I contributed more money into my SEP-IRA after I finished filing my taxes and calculating my maximum contribution limits for the 2020 year.

 30.36%

Bonds

I let go of the “I might as well hold onto these bonds I purchased when I was young” mentality and just sold them all so I can use the money to invest into something that will result in higher returns.

  0.00%

Real estate investment trusts (REITs)

My allocation in REITs remains mostly the same. I recently did some further research into companies like Fundrise, but did not end up following through by investing.

  2.56%

Cryptocurrency

To be clear, this allocation isn’t higher because my investment grew… it’s because I dumped a ton more money into cryptocurrency, and then it plummeted, so now it looks as if I had just seen a modest return on my original investment. And yes, I got trolled just as hard by Elon Musk and Tesla as everyone else.

Within my cryptocurrency holdings, I own 63.38% Bitcoin and 36.62% Ethereum. I also own a tiny amount of some other blockchain as­set, but I don’t really have a mastery of how that works, and the valuation of it is negligible, so I’m not including it in my calculation here.

  4.81%

Speculative stocks

I scrambled up my speculative stocks a bit while I was in the process of selling off my meme stocks, but these holdings remain mostly with companies in the travel industry.

  0.84%

Meme stocks

No more meme stocks for me. … That is, until I randomly get the urge to gamble in the stock market again, I guess.

  0.00%

Private loans

This is a new category, and is a type of investment that I highly discourage you from doing. Since my previous breakdown, I have put a portion of my holdings into private loans, meaning, I am a lender to a private party.

Not only do you need the ability to screen your borrowers in an effective and comprehensive way to appropriately calculate risk, you also need to set aside emotion in your decision-making… which is difficult for most potential individual lenders, because the people asking you to loan them money are likely going to be people you know and to whom you have some sort of connection or attachment.

  6.45%

Maybe I’ll do a breakdown like this quarterly if my investment allocation changes enough? I’ll see.

 

—§—

 

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.

 

—§—