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Stop Taking Money So Seriously w/ Joe Saul-Sehy & Emily Guy Birken

Stop Taking Money So Seriously w/ Joe Saul-Sehy & Emily Guy Birken

42 min read
The BiggerPockets Money Podcast

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Building wealth takes decades with some serious hard work and many, many mistakes along the way. The problem? Most financial independence chasers see themselves as having to be perfectionists. Every investment must be perfect, every dollar spent housed within a budget, and at no time can money become something fun or playful.

Joe Saul-Sehy and Emily Guy Birken rightfully see this type of “serious money attitude” as a mistake that should be avoided at all costs. Every financial guru, expert, or leader in the field has made money mistakes, stressed about money, and finally overcame to accomplish greatness. This is exactly what Joe and Emily want you to accomplish through their new book Stacked: Your Super-Serious Guide to Modern Money Management.

Joe and Emily threw out the old-fashioned mentality about money having to be a serious subject. Instead, they littered their new book with humorous anecdotes, financial innuendo, and lessons that will allow you, your child, your spouse, or your best friend to succeed. If you’re tired of stressing about money and want to start stacking it instead, preorder the new book today!

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Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Hey there. As the BiggerPockets Podcast Network grows, we’re always on the lookout for talented people who think they have what it takes to co-host a show. Is that you? Do you want to be just like me? Well, you can make a submission to our system at BiggerPockets.com/talent so we can get to know you. That’s BiggerPockets.com/talent. You’ll see a few questions and a place to submit a video reel. Again, that’s BiggerPockets.com/talent, if you’d like to lend your voice to the growing BiggerPockets Podcast Network. Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast show number 261, where we interview Emily Guy Birken and Joe Saul-Sehy, and talk about their fantastic new book called Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management.

Emily:
So yes, from the outside, it can feel a little weird to hear the dark humor or the humor that you use to cope with tough situations. But it really does make a huge difference in your ability to cope with things that are really tough. That’s not to say that money isn’t serious and that people don’t have good reason for crying over their money. But if they can start looking at it a little bit more playfully, that’ll provide enough of that psychological distance that they can make better decisions.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my Modern Money Management Master Co-host Scott Trench.

Scott:
Thanks, Mindy. That’s four M’s. I think I’m stealing the moniker, Triple M from another financial blogger and going with Quadruple M.

Mindy:
Quadruple M.

Scott:
Modern Money Management Master. That’s me.

Mindy:
Yeah, I was trying to make it sound like you’re a Modern Money Management Master, not my Master Co-host Scott Trench, because that would be weird.

Scott:
Oh.

Mindy:
Yeah, it was very strange. Okay. Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you’re starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, going to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business or get a general well-rounded introduction to finance, we’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way. So you can launch yourself towards those dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I’m so excited to talk to Joe and Emily. I’m actually very upset with myself that I’ve never had Emily on the show by herself yet because I think she has a fascinating money story. But they are here together today to talk about their new book, which is actually really, really good. I don’t know if you have read any … So I say that, and I feel bad saying that. But I don’t know if you’ve seen every single other money book that’s been out there. Some of them are great and we’ve had those authors on. Some of them are, I don’t know how to say this without sounding snotty.
So I’ll just you know what, if you want to email me, it’s [email protected], but some of them just rehash the same old things in a non-interesting way. Joe and Emily have taken the basics and shared them in a very interesting way. They’ve taken the next step and the next step. They even dive into some advanced investment strategies that a lot of these books don’t talk about. Everything is presented in a really interesting way. And I actually really, really like this book. I’m super excited about it because it’s such a fresh take on modern money management.

Scott:
Yeah. We’ve had Joe Saul-Sehy host the Stacking Benjamin’s Podcast on the BiggerPockets Money Podcast I think two times now over the years. We’re going to have to get Emily on here, her money story. These are two experts and big time players in the personal finance space with that, I’m sure they’ll go straight to their heads, that particular compliment.
But the book is really good. I mean, it’s a really well constructed, funny, fun book. I particularly enjoyed the third and fourth sections and learned a lot. I think they have masterful framework, thinking about risk management and tax strategy in particular with that. I was picking up a large number of nuggets, and I’ve probably consumed 50 of these types of books over the last couple of years. So this is one of my favorite. This is my favorite genre. Hopefully, that’s not a surprise to anyone. I really, really particularly enjoyed this book. So I would highly recommend it, Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management coming out tomorrow.

Mindy:
Today joining me is the lovely Emily Guy Birken, also known as the Notorious EGB. I call her that. I don’t think that very many other people do, and they should. I have never actually had Emily on this show by herself, which is an oversight on my part. She is a brilliant financial author and just a general all around wonderful person. I follow her on Twitter, and she shares one good thing every single day, which lifts my spirits. I just love her. Also to Joe Joe Saul-Sehy is back because he wrote a book with her. So welcome, Emily and Joe.

Emily:
Well, thank you for having us.

Joe:
With friends like Mindy, with friends like Mindy, who needs anybody else? I love you, Mindy.

Mindy:
I love you too, Joe. You’re my 13th favorite Joe.

Joe:
I know. Thank you. That’s good.

Emily:
At least he’s the top 20.

Mindy:
Okay. You two have writtenly. Writtenly. Wow. I don’t even know how to speak, you two have recently-

Joe:
I think it’s we be writtenly.

Mindy:
Yes. You recently wrote a book. You have recently written a book is what I wanted to say. But instead I said writtenly, you have writtenly a book. It is called Stacked: The Super Serious Guide, blah, blah, blah. Emily, tell me what it’s actually called.

Emily:
It is called, and I can display.

Mindy:
Oh la, la.

Emily:
Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management.

Mindy:
Your super serious guide to modern money management. I have been reading this book-

Emily:
Yes. I’ll do my little vana.

Mindy:
I love this book. I really love this book. I’ve read a lot of money books out there. I don’t know if you know this, but you’re not special. There’s a lot of money books out there. What I really like about your book is that really the only difference between your book and every other book that I’ve read is everything. When you start off at the beginning of your book, it is the basics, but it’s not overly wordy.
It’s not overly talking down. It’s just here’s the stuff you need to know. Then you move on to the next thing. But at the very beginning, Joe says right in the introduction, “If you’re going to grow, mistakes are going to happen.” I love that you just say that right out of the gate because so many people are focused on being perfect. So many personal finance people project this image of financial perfection. While Emily of course is financially perfect, Joe’s a giant mess and has shared all of his mistakes throughout the book, which I think is really, really nice to come clean financially with these mistakes. Because I mean, have you ever been on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or any of these other things, and all you see are these perfect, “Here’s my financial picture of the month. Look, I made all this money, and I did all these perfect things. Look at me. I’m so great.” You learned so much more from the mistakes.

Scott:
Why did you choose to write this book? What was the need you wanted to fulfill with it, with stacked?

Joe:
The idea was mine. I had written a book, Scott, over about a decade. I kept stopping and starting and stopping and starting. I finally got it done. I took a seriously, I got it done. I handed it to my spouse. When you wrote your book, was your spouse, your alpha reader, Scott?

Scott:
We had just started dating. So yeah. She and my dad were two huge contributors to the writing of the book. So also going to give my shout out to my mom. She was very unhappy that I did not put her in the acknowledgements in the first edition. It’s featured very prominently now on that. So yeah.

Mindy:
You didn’t put the woman who birthed you?

Scott:
Yeah. That was bad.

Mindy:
In the acknowledgment?

Emily:
How many hours to bring you into this world?

Mindy:
Okay. This isn’t about you. This is about Joe and his 10-year birth.

Joe:
But no, but you think about that stuff later. Once it hits the printer, you go, “Oh crap.” Then you realize this big omission. Yeah, that’s tough.

Scott:
I had a big typo too. One of my friends helped me. He’s a Zack, and I spelled him as a Zach. Anyways, back back to your book here. Who was your primary reader?

Joe:
No, yeah. So mine is Cheryl, same thing. I handed her this thing. I was very proud of it. I don’t know, she read for half an hour before she gave up, a whole 30, 28 minutes. She’s like, “This sucks.” I started it just at the time I was leaving financial planning or just after, and it was super serious. Our first blog was super serious. I thought I was the only person giving advice on the internet, all this stuff. It wasn’t any fun. It was long-winded. It was boring. I was like, “Man, this isn’t it.” But I knew I had things that I wanted to say because the podcast is now over episode 1200, so we clearly have had something to say.
I thought you, you talk to a lot of different people, you read a lot of different books. I always felt there was this missing piece, but I couldn’t really clarify what it was until Cheryl and I were in Portland, Oregon. We’re at this bookstore called Powells, this huge bookstore. I don’t know if you guys have been there, but it’s like a block long. For creative people, it’s a wonderful place to get lost because they butt out the block I think a little at a time. So there’s all of these weird nooks and crannies. I find myself after a while of wandering and looking at things and getting ideas, I find myself in the kids section, which I know Mindy shocks you. I see the Hardy Boy’s Detective Manual.
I remember, Scott, when I was in fourth grade, my brother and I carried this thing around everywhere. it was written, It was a legit book. It was written with a help of a real life, retired FBI agent. So we studied this thing so hard. When my dad would leave on a muddy day, we would look at his tire tracks as he left for work at General Motors. My mom, when she would touch a doorknob, we’d go with the tape. We’d tape the doorknob to get her fingerprint because you can’t trust mom, don’t know where she’s been. So we dogeared this thing, and I got this germ of an idea that really was very stacking Benjamins-y, which is man, if we had this campy thing that was very serious, but it was about money for adults, but they dogeared it.
They kept it with them. If we had that, that would be great. So then we fly home. At that time, I’m living in Michigan. While we were away, my mom has a key to our house. I was 50 years old, Scott. I’m 50 years old. My mom’s finally let me have my crap out of the attic. you can’t trust Joe until he is 50. There’s the sixth place father-son bowling tournament trophy from when I was nine. We took sixth place, and one of the legs is broken off. She gave me that. Joe’s little league pictures with the teams, but the Cubs Scout Wolf Guide was in there. This is actually a great … I don’t know if I like or detest the word “hack”, but something that you guys talk about, that we talk about all the time is gamification, which a lot of these cool apps are helping us do.
Gamification makes so much of this boring tough stuff fun. The Cubs Scouts were great at this even when I was a little kid. So they tell you at the end of every chapter, which they call a chapter an achievement, and you’ll get a badge, every chapter you start off with the things you’re going to need. They succinctly tell you how to do it. To show proficiency, they have a thing, a bunch of list of things that you have to check off that you do. If you do them all, there’s a spot for your mom to sign it so you can get the badge. So we thought that if we could do that and make it actually a fairly serious book written in a funny way about money for people where every chapter, and our chapters are the same, we have badges at the end of every chapter. We show proficiency at the end. There’s a place for your mom to sign at the end of every chapter.

Scott:
Your parent’s signature, putting your mom’s John Hancock on your Benjamin stacking makes it official.

Joe:
If you finish the whole thing, you can tear out the page where we have a certificate of completion from mom and Emily and I. But inside there, it is some pretty legit stuff. So that was the idea. By the way, selling this to the world’s biggest publishers, this is what we told them, it’s during COVID. So Emily and I are on these calls with all these … Because you take it on like a roadshow, the project. Our agent was great about setting us up with all these different publishers. I felt so weird at the end of every one going, “So what we want to do is the Hardy boy’s Detective Manual meets the Cub Scout Wolf Guide, but for adults and about money. What do you think?” I expected the Zoom call to go black right then. We were done.

Scott:
I remember being a big fan of the Hardy boys. I think the plot of every single one goes, something like this, mysterious murder or theft happens. The Hardy boys get deeper and deeper into the weeds. They get close to a discovery, they get knocked unconscious, taken hostage. The crime is then confessed to them by the person. Then they’re given a laughably long period of time to escape. Then the culprit is apprehended. Is that your approach to finance that you put into the book, into the meeting?

Joe:
That is the whole plot of Stacked. You just gave away the ending. It’s what happens at the end. Well, and to take your question a little bit seriously, when you talk about a laughable period of time to get away, is to Mindy’s point and something that Emily writes all the time, is this stuff is way too serious to take it seriously all the time. There’s a very serious report that I read recently from a group called Nonfiction. It’s called the Secret Financial Lives of Americans.
It reports that over 150 million of us in the United States, nearly half of us have reported crying about our money, that we cry about our money. You’d think that that’s people that are mostly very close to the best people living paycheck to paycheck, that’s not the truth. Almost half of people making $250,000 a year or more are crying about their money. So you think what we always seem to focus on in finance world is what’s the hot new thing.
What’s the hot stuff? What do we need to see next? I don’t think guys, people are crying about the fact that central bank digital currency might become a part of our lives over the next couple years, but that’s the hot new thing. Right? They’re not crying about the fact that Roth conversions and the mega backdoor Roth IRA might go away at the time that we’re recording this. They’re not crying about that. They’re crying that they don’t know what to do. So we thought that in the landscape of books, there needed to be a spot where we presented some serious stuff in a very campy way to lighten the mood so we can take it more seriously.

Emily:
Well, and that’s one of the things that I think is really important because you can ease tension by making jokes. Some of the hardest times in your life are going to be a lot easier, and you’re going to be able to think about them more clearly if you can joke about it. In some ways, that can look weird from the outside. My dad used to tell the story of he was at a hotel once where there was a convention of undertakers. so he was some place where he could overhear them in the lobby and they were making jokes about undertaking and mortuary science. He was just like, “I don’t think I’m meant to be hearing this.”
So yes, from the outside, it can feel a little weird to hear the dark humor or the humor that you use to cope with tough situations. But it really does make a huge difference in your ability to cope with things that are really tough. That’s not to say that money isn’t serious and that people don’t have good reason for crying over their money. But if they can start looking at it a little bit more playfully, that’ll provide enough of that psychological distance that they can make better decisions.

Scott:
Yeah. there’s a whole bunch of research out there that says that humor helps you with memory and retention of information, and understanding of these key concepts, I’m sure.

Mindy:
It’s just more interesting to read something that’s funny rather than to read something that’s boring. If you have a partner who maybe isn’t so interested in money or isn’t so interested in getting their financial stuff in order, finding a way to communicate with them is going to be key. Giving them some super boring book is not that key. Having them read a book that’s interesting, that has them keeping the pages turning is going to be the best way to get them interested.

Scott:
So, so you I love the theme here. We have a humorous take on … Well, we have a serious take on finance with humor blended throughout and a gamification system with parent signature and approval with that. But how did you frame the book? I see there’s four parts with that. Could you walk us through those four parts and why you structured that way?

Joe:
There’s actually, Scott, in this piece, the way that we structured it, frankly, there’s a … By the way, this is a great hack for anybody that is working on any project, take stuff that you really pay homage to it, remix it, make it your own. But creativity’s built on what you like from other people. There’s so many other people in this book, but one person who’s in here is Scott Trench.
I really like the fact that Set for Life starts off with starting small and then building from there. Being a book that’s made for we don’t know where you’re starting from, I thought that your logic and framing your book that way was very smart. Stacked, while it has a different tone, is very much structured in a similar fashion. It starts off with the basics of stacking your first Benjamin.
Where should you start, number one. How do you get your budget together? How do you get your butt out of debt? How do you maybe make some more money? All the basics to start stacking that first Benjamin. Then how do we build a stack of Benjamins? How do we invest that money in some of the 201 stuff. Then how do you protect it? That’s the third part of the book. Then last is the stuff that the Uber nerds really like where we’re talking about modern portfolio theory, strategic under diversification, tax strategies. We go from very basic budgeting at the top to modern portfolio theory at the end and really makes for quite a ride.

Scott:
Yeah. I particularly enjoyed part three of the book here and thought there was a really advanced, part three and four, where there was a particularly advanced understanding of risk management. You start off that section with the chapter, the condom broke and other risk management horror or stories with that. But no, but we actually had you on the podcast a while back to give us your viewpoint on insurance. I thought that was a really strong and sophisticated and clear way of communicating how insurance can reduce risk in your life. That knowledge obviously translates to this book, and I think what’s a really, really powerful framework here.

Joe:
Well, thank you. I mean, some of the very basic thing when it comes to that part, Scott, for everybody, whether you read our book or not, the big key that Emily and I think wanted to focus on is do not think about buying insurance. The insurance industry wants you to think about buying insurance. The key is to think about risk management. Where are the risks in your life and how do I overcome those?
If you don’t mind, let’s give people a few of them. Number one is the base of your whole risk management strategy is having an emergency fund because once you have an emergency fund, now I can raise my deductibles on my insurance, which it means it’s going to cost me money. Before inflation just went sky high and we can now get an Ibom pay in 7%. Everybody was talking about I’m earning 0.5% in my money markets. This money’s sitting there doing nothing.
Well, it actually is saving you money in other places. Even though I’m not earning any money on that money, because I have it, I need to buy less insurance. I’m paying less to insurance companies so that the interest I’m earning is in terms of not buying as much from these people that will do what I’m now doing on my own.
The second thing it does is it allows you two things with your investment strategy, which are to be patient and to have some courage when things go tough. Right? I mean, there’s times when things are difficult and if all of your money is invested in the optimal way, and you don’t have an emergency fund to float you through those bad times and to give you the courage to hang in there.
The great thing when I was a financial planner was I could tell people, well, you’re not going to need this money for a year. Even if the worst stuff happens, you lose your job right now, we’ve got a year sitting over there. So you’re good. You’re fine. So that’s the base of it. Another very quick hack that as I was leafing through, just prepping for today that I remembered was my house got broken into. The insurance company was really good, but they gave me a blank sheet of paper. They said, “Write down everything that you owned.” Where are you going to start? If your house burns down or whatever.
So just take your phone and do … I think, Emily, you and I called it, do your own MTV cribs.

Emily:
Oh yeah, yeah.

Joe:
Where you’re going through your house and you’re narrating as you’re just … Open up drawer about your badass kitchen and awesome bedroom and whatever else. Just go around and do a video. My insurance company was great at replacing whatever I told them. They took my word for it. I just had to tell them what I owned, and that would’ve been impossible had I not made a video.

Scott:
I think that’s a great tip. You don’t really think about this. Hey, what if my house burns down? I’m going to have to get an itemized list of all of those different little things, but yeah. Making a video of it is a five, 10-minute, maybe even less activity that you can do once, twice a year, or maybe even less frequently and get 90, 95% of whatever you lose back in that event. So I think it was a fantastic tip.

Emily:
The other thing about the risk management aspect of it is we tend to get very narrow focused on what risk means to us. So if I talk to someone who says, “I’m very risk averse, the idea of losing principle just is terrifying to me.” Talking through them like, “Well, what about what inflation is going to do to the buying power of that money?” And saying, “I understand why that is scary for you,” the idea of investing and losing principle is scary for you. But have you looked at the overall risk to your money just sitting in a place that’s safe. Same thing with stuff like the house burning down and things like that. There are the things that we think of as risks.
So for instance, in my neighborhood, there’s quite a bit of property crime near where I live. So when we think of risk in terms of what’s going on in our home, that’s the one that we’re concerned about. Remembering there are other risks, remembering fires do happen, floods happen, any number of other things. So just recognizing that you might have tunnel vision about what risk you’re most likely to face and getting a sense of opening that up and recognizing what risks are most likely, what risks you need to protect yourself against, even if they’re unlikely, and doing the best that you can to cover those gaps.

Joe:
We were talking in the book about risk management and about what Emily just said about risk losing principle. There are a lot of people very safely losing buying power. Right? Especially now with inflation through the roof, like you are super safely losing your ability to buy anything because you need to be in investments long term that beat inflation. The other thing we thought about that had we written this book, Emily, I was thinking when inflation is as high as it is now, we would’ve totally included something about the fact that you could buy a pallet right now of canned corn, and just hang onto it. The fact that the pallet of can corn in six months from now is probably going to cost a bunch more. It’s a great way to play the risk game in the commodities market that just … Anyway, maybe not. Maybe that wouldn’t have made the book.

Scott:
I’m so glad we got a reference to Joe’s background as a farmer on the podcast, as well as in the book with that.

Joe:
That’s all, Emily. She pointed to me. Totally. Yeah.

Mindy:
Was that a bet? Did she …

Scott:
Is that your advice from a commodity standpoint is to purchase large quantities of canned goods?

Joe:
What if it does?

Mindy:
And then bury them in the backyard.

Joe:
That’s exactly. That is exactly it. So that you can either sell them for morph later or the zombie apocalypse, you’re golden.

Scott:
Yeah. Well, it comes up quite a bit on it. It comes down to Hey, it’s 2021, about to be 2022, as we’re recording this. Where do you go for yield? Do you go to stocks? Do you go to real estate? Do you go into debt or do you buy debt? Do you buy pallets of canned corn? Do you keep cash? What is that? There’s risk associated with all of those different types of things. Cash is not a safe option. You know you’re going to lose to inflation over the long run with it. It’s just a matter of how do you create an allocation across your portfolio that makes sense in that context?

Mindy:
I want to bring up a point here, Joe. You have a part in the book, investor mistake number four, investors make emotional mistakes. They make emotional decisions. You suggest writing out an investment philosophy and make a plan and stick to it. On episode 119 of our podcast, Mad Scientists, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.

Joe:
No idea.

Mindy:
He is generally regarded to be rather brilliant when it comes to money. If you’ve met him in real life, he’s rather stoic. You would think he would be this rock. I hope I’m painting this picture of him as this solid person. But when we talked to him right after the March 13th dip or the March 2020 dip, he said that that freaked him out. He always thought he would be able to handle a market downturn.
But when it actually happened, he was like, oh my God, I’m not as cool as a cucumber as I thought I was going to be. But he’s also super logical. So he was like, “Okay, I’m not going to make any rash decisions. I have faith that the market’s going to correct itself. So I’m going to take notes right now. I’m going to make journal entries, how I am feeling right now.” When the market has corrected, when the market has calmed down, I’m going to go back in and reevaluate my asset allocation so that I can make smart decisions outside of the heat of the moment. I just want to challenge everybody listening to do that.
Remember back to March 2020 when your stock portfolio took an enormous dip. How did you feel freaked out or you didn’t notice because you don’t look every single day like some nerds? That’s okay too. Frankly to hear him say that was so helpful because he’s so perfect in every single way. To hear him be like, “Nope, I freaked out too. That was really helpful to hear. I like that you have that advice make a plan and stick to it. It’s hard to stick to it. Step number one, if you see the market falling, and you know you want to stay in it, you know you want to stay in it, stop looking at the market.

Emily:
I think of it a little bit like taking a social media break. So social media has many wonderful things, but sometimes you’re sitting there doom scrolling. You’re like, “Oh my God, everything is awful. The meteor just needs to come right now.” If you take a break and step away, and then all of a sudden the bluebirds are singing and the sun is shining and you’re walking your dog. You’re like, “Hey, things aren’t so bad.” I think of take taking a break from news about your money can also be similarly helpful, particularly when there’s things like downturns. You know you’ve got a good plan, you know you’re all set. If you just stay the course, you’ll be fine.
So taking that like, “I’m going to step away. I’m going to let the sunshine and the bluebirds sing, and all of those things, and the news will still be there when I come back if I need to know.” If I don’t, I don’t need to see every third person screaming about the sky falling because that’s not going to do anything other than make my rage vein pop, and my blood pressure go high, and make me do something I might regret.

Joe:
I like the mindset shift that Emily’s talking about. Another mindset shift that I like is think about yourself as a company. So many of us, we go to work, and we work for somebody else, and we make these completely rational decisions for them. Then we come home with the money that we work hard to earn, and we make completely emotion decisions with all the cash that we brought home.
So I think we have to think about ourselves as the CEO. If I’m the CEO and I’m getting ready for a quarterly earnings call with my investors, where am I at? Where am I at? Where am I telling them I’m going to be next, next quarter? Where am I going to be before that? It also reminds us don’t work in the moment, work on the machine, build an investing machine and work on the machine so that you’re not reinventing the wheel every single time that you invest. I’ve talked before with you guys about the fact that, Scott, you know that my son is a big fan of yours. He’s up now to eight houses.

Scott:
Wow.

Joe:
Eight rental properties.

Scott:
Wow.

Joe:
He has at 26 years old, very quickly, built a machine. You know what? The first house sucked. He made a ton of mistakes. He made fewer mistakes on the second one, fewer on the third. Now he has, as David Green talks about, he’s got his team together. He has a team in place. He’s got his strategy. He knows what he’s doing. He knows who his good partners are. Now he’s moving very quickly.
The last two doors, he did very, very quickly because he’s got that. Do the same thing with your stock portfolio, build yourself an investment … It’s called an investment policy statement. What am I going to do? When do I look at my portfolio? What are the moves that I make? How big are those moves? Do I make a 20% move? Can I make a 10% move? Certainly you’re never going to move everything at once. Right? But write all those things out. Then if it goes wrong, like Brandon talked about, Mindy, then that’s when you tweak the machine.

Scott:
One of the things I’ve noticed in your book is most chapters, maybe every chapter, you have an interview or most chapters, you have an interview with an expert that comes in on that topic. One of my favorites of those, it was one of the later chapters in your book where you’re talking about, one of Mindy and I’s favorite subjects, which is Roth versus 401k contributions in that.
I want to get specific into this point and general into why you chose to bring that format in, and how you use that as a tool throughout the book here. But one of the things I thought that was really fascinating from that discussion was apparently there’s $21 trillion in 401ks and 800 billion in Roth IRAs.
Your opinion or this gentleman’s opinion is apparently that that has major ramifications for how the IRS might play certain tax games going forward. I thought that was a … Could you speak to that and give us a little guidance about that topic specifically, and then Zoom out and tell us about how you chose to bring these experts in?

Joe:
Yeah. Absolutely. That was David McKnight, and he has written some great books about trying to get your tax rate as close as zero as possible. It’s been a fantastic guest on a couple different episodes on our show. But he talked to, I believe it was if I remember right, the comptroller of government, which is a nonpartisan position. This person told him, he said, “Tax rates are going to have to go up, and it’s just math. It is just clearly math.”
So what we definitely need to do, we don’t know definitively where tax rates are going. But if the math says that they’re going up, we want as much money in a Roth position as we possibly can. If you think about that and just moving away from the book a little bit, every non Roth account is a joint account, right?
It’s a joint account with you and your uncle in Washington. The bear of this is it isn’t even your real uncle, right? You’ve never really met them, but even in a 401k, like you work your butt off to put money in the 401k, and your uncle’s riding all those sweet gains with you. But the second you convert it to a Roth that becomes just yours, and if you do it while tax rates are low, and while we still have an opportunity, your ability to do that, to make that flip is much better today than possibly any time in the future. So he was highly advocating that move. I hope that answers your question, the piece that you were …

Scott:
Well, one point from that discussion that I thought was striking was you say, “Well, might the IRS change the rules one day.”

Joe:
Change the rule, yes.

Scott:
On these Roth IRAs.

Joe:
I got it.

Scott:
And say, “Yeah, we’re going to go ahead and start taxing the gains on those. We’re going to RENEG on that.”

Joe:
Yes.

Scott:
But the point about the concentration of wealth in the 401k versus the Roth was I think really important in that. Could you speak to that?

Joe:
Yes, no. I know exactly where you’re going now. There, he says, when he talks about the amount of money in the Roth, he’s like, “These people are elected officials.” So many people are using this. Their number one goal is to get reelected. If their goal is to get reelected, why the hell are they going to get rid of that? So the chance that they would get rid of that, even though logically, it makes sense, “Hey, we’re just going to take this back. Oops. We don’t want this money to be tax free forever. We can’t handle it.” There’s a lot of other levers he said that could be pulled. That’s a lever that they are increasingly unlikely to pull.

Emily:
If I could just jump in, like one of the things. So I wrote a book on social security in 2015, literally three weeks after I turned it in, they changed the rules for social security.

Scott:
Whoopsies.

Emily:
It did fulfill one of my lifelong ambitions. I wanted something that I wrote, would cause someone to go, “Stop the presses,” which we weren’t that far along. But I did have that moment of a little record scratch. Because the change in social security claiming options negated about 50% of what I’d written. I thought that was a really important thing for me to remember, and for all of us to remember is that things can change with a stroke of a pen. Now they’re unlikely to. When people ask me specifically about social security, people my age will say, “Is it going to be there for us when we retire?”
I say, yes. If it’s not, we’re going to have bigger problems in social security. Because whatever it is that’s going on that causes social security to vanish or not be there or whatever, is going to be a much greater threat to us. So I’m thinking the Kraken arrives from the sea, zombie apocalypses, aliens descend. I’m thinking things like that is what would lead to something that would cause a change in that just because of the way human nature is, the way our laws are set up, and all of those things, it’s very unlikely. But remember, it could happen. If it does, you’re probably dealing with something even bigger and you’re going to … Your taxable or a non-taxable RIA account is going to be the least of your worries.

Scott:
One more point on that was, “Hey, there’s 21 trillion in 401ks, which are tax deferred.” There’s 800 billion in Roth IRAs. If you want to increase revenue to the federal government, do you raise taxes 3 or 4%, or do you reneg on the promise you made to the Roth IRA contributors? Right? I think that was a really fun zoom out way to think about that particular problem with that. But who are some of the other experts that you brought in to interview for the book? How’d you choose when and where to insert those?

Joe:
So I’ll start with that part, which is funny. I’ll go back to Steal Like an Artist. I like the way, Scott, that you set up your book. I thought that was great. I was on Amelia Island, near Jacksonville, just this beautiful resort area. Cheryl and I are walking through this little resort town. There was a beautiful old bookstore. Walked in there. There was a book that was written by Howard Stern. Howard Stern, the entire book was just interviews with some of the really cool people he’s talked to. I found myself fascinated just reading the pages.
I also thought we’ve interviewed so many people. We’ve interviewed so many great people and had so great discussions. Frankly then once we decided that that was going to be at the end of every chapter, also picking the ones were very difficult. We had so many fantastic conversations, but we really went to the topic first that was in the book and then said, “What was a great conversation we had there?” So about having a good debt strategy, Laura Adams, who’s money girl, we talk about basics of investing, a great conversation we have with Jill Schlesinger from CBS news, and another one of my favorite podcast, Jill on Money, which is just a really fun, good podcast.
We have Jean Chatzky in the book at the end who wraps it all together. What does this all mean? How do we apply meaning to all these things? We talked about David McNight earlier. A woman named Maury Taharapor who probably isn’t to many people here, somebody that they’ve heard of, but she’s negotiated with the NFL players association. She helped teach them how to negotiate. That’s one of many firms she teaches at Wharton, teaches negotiation at Wharton. We had a fantastic conversation about negotiating raises and negotiating for … If you’re price negotiating, how to do that and how to frame it.
Phil Town, when we get to more complex investing. Of course, Phil Town buys individual investments. Something a lot of people here don’t do, but is phenomenal at it. So rule one, investing is his New York times bestseller. It was hard. We talked about budgets. We talked to the budgetnista, Tiffany Leche.

Emily:
One of the things that I really liked, about this is about doing this is it reminded me a little bit of those old timey variety shows where it would be hosted by sunny and share, but featuring. Then they would have all these really famous people. So that’s what it felt to me is Joe and I are the hosts of this variety show. But we’ve got all of these major talents who are also coming in and lending their voice. It just was a really cool way to make sure that we got a chance to really have fun when we were talking, but also make sure that the expertise came through very clearly from all the people from the interviews.

Joe:
One of my favorite points from any of those interviews were two people who created a thing called ever plans. The best piece of advice that nobody thinks about. I just had a family member pass away, and we think about estate planning. You know what we don’t think about that’s increasingly important to everybody? We don’t think about what’s the password onto your phone. We think about all the passwords of the stuff in your phone, but if they can’t get into your phone, it’s going to be very difficult for them to get all that other stuff. So somebody’s got to know just what that little password is to get on the phone, to get to the things. That was a cool tip that I had totally overlooked my entire career, had never thought of that until they were on our show.

Scott:
Yeah. I think that that’s a good example of the power of your book. You have a great structure. You have the two expertise from both of you guys. You’ve got a ton of humor, and you’ve got these experts that you’ve brought in because of the way that they construct their arguments and their discussions about these specific areas of personal finance across everything from budgeting to advanced, to estate planning and tax strategy.

Joe:
Thanks.

Mindy:
It’s very much the Stacking Benjamins show itself, you learn some thing in a fun way. You learn something despite yourself. You’re not even trying to learn, and you already do.

Joe:
I like the fact that we got to laugh our head off. I mean, just the concept, Cheryl, I wrote this book all over the place. I remember I was living in Vermont for a while. I’m out on the patio writing in this beautiful condo. We are in Stow. I maybe two beers in which makes me write faster.

Scott:
That explains a lot.

Joe:
But I found that if I write, Scott, if I write the first draft fast and loose, it came out better. Then I would edit very, very diligently. Man, we edited the heck out of this book. But Cheryl said, she’s like, The whole time I’m sitting out there,” she can hear me laughing. If I’m laughing while I’m writing it, I’m hoping …
Your results may vary. But as we were writing it, just Emily calling mutual funds, MF for an entire chapter, MFs, these MFs, that was so funny. Having you say it like what’s his name, Emily?

Emily:
Samuel L. Jackson.

Joe:
Yeah. These MFs, yes. That was great. Referring to Thomas Jefferson, his old Tommy J, I thought was great.

Mindy:
Tommy Jeff.

Joe:
I also thought … Tommy Jeff. Then your growing budget and you. That was funny. The thing between the fifties mom and son. Mom, I was creating my budget, my voice cracked. It’s okay, honey. It happens to everybody when they’re getting their money together. Just some of those things are just so stupid, they were great, and just so fun to write.

Emily:
It was so much fun writing. Well, for one thing, I liked to use a little bit of humor in everything that I write, but it often gets edited out because I’m often writing for venues that want something a little more serious, though they want approachable, but serious. So getting a chance to actually let my humor off the leash was great. But even better was the fact that I had a specific audience in mind, Joe. I was like, “I want to make Joe laugh when he reads this.” That was even more fun than just generally trying to be funny, just specifically like, “Oh, Joe’s going to love this.”

Scott:
Who’s going to narrate the book and make sure that these points are emphasized like that?

Emily:
Well-

Joe:
Yeah, go ahead.

Emily:
Joe did the majority of the narration, but there were some things that I wanted to have part in. So I narrate my tattoo story, and then I narrate all of the footnotes and all of the post-it notes that are throughout.

Joe:
You open every chapter with the tools you’ll need. You also do the achievements at the bottom of every chapter.

Emily:
Yes, and I do the achievements at the end. Yes.

Joe:
The big piece of that though is, so my mom appears on the show from time to time in these little snippets. She’ll say, “You can’t go play with that Ramsey boy until you clean your room.” She’ll say stuff like that. In real life, I had to fire my mom, which was difficult. My mom had me when she was 18. She’s very young, and she has a very young voice. So we first started doing-

Scott:
And she doesn’t make acknowledgements either.

Joe:
She does. We do thank mom. I didn’t Scott Trench that one. I got that one right. But what was weird was in the show, in the show, I had to let her go. I told her, I said, “Mom, it’s because you sound too young. You’re too …” She’s like, “Whatever, that’s fine.” But I’m sitting in this meeting of this nonprofit that I work with. We build walking trails around town, and I love doing it. I’m on the board. It’s safe routes to schools and healthy living and also an inexpensive way to build property values in our town. So the woman, there’s a couple that leads to the charge to the founders. And Julie Ray Harrison has this wonderful voice, like this Northeast Texas lilt. She’s this just sweet woman.
I’m sitting in a meeting, I’m like, “Oh my God, you’re my mom. You’re totally my mom.” So I asked her after a meeting a few years ago if she’d play mom on the podcast. So when people who listen to our show, if you’ve listened to our show and you’ve heard our snippet to mom, that’s my friend, Julie Ray Harrison. Well, what was cool was, was that Penguin Random House, our book is on their Avery Imprint, Penguin Random House came to Emily. We’re talking and they’re like, “Well, is your mom going to read the mom parts?” I’m like, “Really? You actually want mom to read all the mom Segues?” They’re like, “Yeah, yeah. Can your mom do it?” I’m like, “Well, okay. It’s not my mom.” So I get to go to Julie Ray, and I said, “Hey, will you play my mom one more time?” So Julie Ray went in the studio. If you get the audio book, you’re going to hear, quote, “my mom” do all the mom parts throughout the book, which I think was the most fun. That was great.

Emily:
That was pretty awesome.

Scott:
That’s fantastic. So we have multiple quotes.

Mindy:
I can’t believe you fired your mother.

Joe:
It was so hard. I’m callused, Mindy. Look at me.

Mindy:
Wow. Stone cold Joe Saul-Sehy.

Joe:
Well, I got to keep up with Emily. No, I got to keep up with Emily. Which if you read the book, we don’t need to talk about this now, but you’ll learn that Emily’s tattoo says she’s a stone cold killer. You won’t make it with Emily Guy Birken.

Mindy:
I’ve read Emily’s tattoo story. I was wondering if that still existed.

Emily:
It does. Yes. I can remember before I got the tattoo, I remember meeting someone who had a ridiculous tattoo that he got while he was in the military. I asked him, “Why don’t you get it removed?” He’s like, “Why throw good money after bad?” I was like, fair. It’s reasonable.

Mindy:
As long as it’s not a gang tattoo, leave it.

Emily:
So yes, the tattoo does still exist. I am a stone cold grandma killer.

Joe:
Yes.

Emily:
Not really.

Mindy:
You, near the end of the book, explain how tax brackets work. I could just kiss you for that. That is such a great explanation. So many people get this wrong. So many people understand the tax brackets to be, “I’m in the 37% tax bracket. Therefore, I pay 37% of my income to taxes.” That’s not how taxes work. It’s one of those things that I know how it works. I could sit down and explain it to you, but it takes a really long time for me to figure out how to explain it. You guys just do a really great job of that. So thank you so much for explaining that in such an easy way. Thank you on behalf of everybody.

Scott:
Could you explain it now, so for folks …

Mindy:
No, thank you.

Emily:
That was my husband actually, made that the visual suggestion. He’s an engineer, and he sees things visually. So I’ll explain something to him and it’ll be a wall of text at him. He’ll be like that, and if I draw a picture like, “Oh okay. I get it.” So I was talking to him about how I wanted to provide some visual for how the progressive tax rate works. I was having trouble thinking of it. I was thinking like sand in an hourglass, but that doesn’t work. He thought about it for a little bit. He came back. He’s like, “You know those champagne glass pyramids where you’ve got one glass at the top and then four underneath and so and so forth? You pour a glass of champagne in the top. Then what goes over, goes into the next, and what goes over there goes into the next.”

Mindy:
The champagne fountain.

Emily:
Goes there and goes into the next. So yeah. I was like, “That is per perfect.” So if your income is the champagne bottle, then the glasses represents the progressive level of taxation. So if you have an income where it only gets down to the third level of champagne glasses and you only get a drop in there, that’s all that you’re only to be paying on drop, paying the percentage of that bracket on that drop. So I really appreciated my husband’s visual mind at that point. It was pretty cool.

Mindy:
Jamie for the win. Now Jamie should get the champagne fountain tattooed on his back.

Emily:
That seems unlikely. Although he may agree to have a champagne fountain. I don’t think he’ll get the tattoo of one, but …

Mindy:
Fine.

Scott:
Those types of visuals are littered throughout the book. There is one on that, and there’s another one that you had in there that was … There’s one here that’s on a money script inventory where you can take a quiz. What was the other one? Oh, the cheat sheet for investing. Hey, if you’re going to invest in this timeline, this is a potentially good asset class. If you’re going to invest in this timeline, this is a good one. If you’re in one to five years, here you go. If you’re in less than five years, sorry. If you’re less than five years, here you go. Five to 10 years, here you go, and 10 plus years, here you go. So I think there’s a lot of cool stuff that you’ve been able to implement in the book like that. So thanks.

Joe:
We actually thank you for that. This is just because of the way we learn. We’ve had some brain experts actually on the show about how we learn. When I stopped being a financial planner, I went back to school to become a school teacher. Human development and the way people learn just fascinates me. We are largely visual. There’s three types of people on earth. There are visuals which make up most of the world.
For the rest of us, we live in a visual world. How do you know if you’re a visual? You think about the way you talk. Even if you’re listening, you’ll say, oh, that looks good to me. Somebody will explain a concept, and they’ll go, yeah, it looks good. That strategy looks good. That’s good stuff. Audios, the second biggest group of people. Those people say, “Sounds like a plan, right? Sounds wonderful.” Third group, and the smallest group, and this is my son. He’s got to feel it. Right? I got to feel the plan. So most of us, most of us learn better when we’re visual, which goes to Amy’s point and why Jamie was so helpful. Did I say, Amy? Did I call you Amy?

Emily:
You did. I was like, I’m sorry. Who am I?

Joe:
Yeah. Goes to Amy’s point. Amy. I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about Amy clearly.

Emily:
Your other co-writer.

Joe:
Yes. Goes to Emily’s point.

Scott:
That name just felt right.

Joe:
It’s funny because I took Emily and I took Jamie, and I put them together. So Emily and Jamie, just if you can see it, you’re much more likely to do it. Plus, we really, and this was fun was that Emily’s a kickass cartoonist. So she got to show off her cartooning skills too, which was cool.

Emily:
Yeah. Earlier this year, I was trying to post a cartoon a day. It fell apart because 2021. But I was doing that pretty much daily early on in the year. Joe messaged me at one point, he was like, “Why don’t you draw something for the book?” I was in a fetal position under my desk for a little while going, “Oh my goodness.” I made myself presentable and I was like, sure. But yeah, that was really, really exciting. I’m so delighted to have this book out, but I’m also be like, “And now I’m a publishing illustrator.”

Scott:
Well guys, this book is going to be a fun for a visual. It’s going to be fun for … If you like jokes, it’s going to have a great audio, three different contributors for narrating is what we just heard with that. Where can people find it? Where can people learn more about the book?

Joe:
Yeah. Emily, you want to go first?

Emily:
Sure. Well, it’s going to be available December 28th, officially, anywhere books are sold. That includes any online book seller, your local retailer. We love independent bookstores, libraries, all of that. You can pre-order, you can go to EmilyGuyBirken/Stacked. You can pre-order it. Pre-orders actually really help authors because all the pre-orders that are made prior to the day that it is officially published are counted in that first week’s worth of sales. So pre-orders can help determine if a book is going to get on any bestseller lists. Those are some really great ways to find it. I really hope people will buy it.

Joe:
You can also find it at StackingBenjamins.com/Stacked as well, my home. Also Emily and I are going on this crazy 40 city tour to go meet as many personal finance nerds as possible. We’re coming to Denver. We’re coming to Longmont. That tour starts on December 5th. We go to Dallas, Houston, and Austin, then fly to the west coast, then down to the Southeast. We’re traveling.

Emily:
I think you mean January 5th?

Joe:
Did I say December?

Emily:
You said December.

Joe:
Be quiet, Amy. Let me start that again. Three, two, one.

Mindy:
We’re not editing that out, Joe, though.

Joe:
That is …

Mindy:
You can three, two, one all you want, but we’re not going to edit that out.

Joe:
Yeah. They’re like, “Hey, it’s my podcast.” Yeah, January, January 5th. Then through mid-March, so come see us wherever we are. We’re having most of them at micro breweries, a few at libraries. But we’re going to a lot of cities. So I hope to meet a lot of personal finance nerds. We’re going to try to invite our community out wherever we are. So hopefully, we see Mindy and Scott and other cool people along the way.

Scott:
Awesome. Where can people find out more about you guys?

Emily:
You can find me on my website, EmilyGuyBirken.com. You can also come find me on Twitter, @EmilyGuyBirken. I am on Twitter way too much. But as Mindy mentioned, on social media every day, I share one good thing from that day, something I’ve been doing since 2018. It has made a huge difference for me. I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that it’s really meaningful for them. So I would love for you to come see me on Twitter and tell me you’re one good thing.

Joe:
I try to share five bad things to counteract that every day. No, I don’t. I totally don’t. I’m Average Joe Money.

Emily:
Don’t yuck my yum.

Joe:
I’m Average Joe Money on Twitter. You’ll find me at the Stacking Benjamins podcast every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Scott:
Awesome. A lot of places to go and find the book and both these individuals, Joe and Amy here. You can find what we will link to all of those.

Mindy:
Emily.

Scott:
We will link to all of those places in the show notes at BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow261, the show number one. You’ll be able to link out to all of the things that we just talked about here. Joe, Emily, thank you so much for coming on this show today. It was pleasure to have you.

Joe:
Thank you so much for having us.

Emily:
Thank you for having us.

Joe:
This was-

Mindy:
Yeah. Emily, I want to have you back on your very own show so we can hear your money story because we’ve already heard Joe’s, and we need you now.

Emily:
That would be wonderful. I would love that.

Joe:
Well, I wanted to say on my end, Scott, it was fantastic, and Mindy was here too. So I’m just trying to …

Mindy:
Yes. Thank you, Joe. I’ll say some choice words to you after we stop recording. Oh we got a snort. Yay. With that, I will bid you both adieu.

Joe:
All right, kids.

Mindy:
Okay. That was Joe and Emily. That was a lot of fun. I always love talking to Joe. I always love talking to Emily, not that you would know because I’ve never had her on the show before because I’m a terrible person.
Joe, as you know, is a former financial planner. He has filled in for you, Scott, when you were too busy for me. He does a great job of filling your shoes. Emily is lesser known to our audience right now, but clearly a master of her own … A master in her own right. I really enjoyed talking to them. I really enjoyed their book. Like you said in the introduction, I learned things from this book. I don’t want to be a snob, but a lot of these books, I’m just … You know what? Yeah. Email [email protected] and tell him what a terrible person I am.
But I’m not the target market for most of these books. That’s okay. There is a target market for these books. Most of these books, I don’t learn something from, but I did learn a lot from this book, Stacked. So if you are in a position of you know a lot about money or you are trying to get your spouse on board, your partner on board, you would like to start the conversation. This book is an excellent introduction to finance.

Scott:
It’s almost like whether you have money or want more money, right?

Mindy:
It’s a book for those who have money and those who want to have more.

Scott:
Ah. Well, Mindy-

Mindy:
Okay, Scott.

Scott:
Should we get out of here?

Mindy:
We should from episode 261 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He is Scott Trench. I am Mindy Jensen saying, go out and stack those Benjamins.

 

Watch the Podcast Here

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Why most personal finance books tend to miss the mark on being entertaining and informative
  • Risk management and how it goes far beyond simply buying insurance
  • The importance of having a financial plan in place NOW before disaster strikes
  • 401ks vs. Roth IRAs and the future tax implications of retirement accounts
  • Tax brackets and the simplicity of calculating yours
  • Why Joe needed to “fire” his own mother from working on his book
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in the Show:

  • Stacked by Joe Saul-Sehy & Emily Berkin

Connect with Joe:

Connect with Emily: