Little Picture

36 thoughts on “Little Picture”

  1. Johnny, I’m interested in your strategy to “aggressively seek out smart, capable, charming young people – particularly couples with young children – and pull them in to my orbit.”

    Absent a property to rent to such folks, might you have suggestions for meeting folks like that? I’m rather an introvert and don’t live in a place that would seem to draw them… but maybe I’ve not been looking.

    1. There are good people everywhere. Do you have a room to rent? Go to church or some other type of institution where people gather? Volunteer at the animal shelter? Set up a booth at a farmers market or flea market? Just being out in the world a little puts you in contact with all sorts of folks.

      1. So far my forays have found me older folks (via master gardeners) and college students who leave in a few years (via part time work). I’ll have to try harder. Church is out, unfortunately in this case.

        1. From early on in my life I’ve created daisy chains of people in my life. For example, I would invite near strangers to stay with me for free while they were traveling. Then I could stay with them wherever they lived. Then I’d meet more people and invite them to visit. (It was a lot easier back when I was young and cute…) Most of these connections didn’t lead to anything, but gradually the friendships that did stick accumulated. Now as an older guy I continue to draw on those built up and broad relationships. That’s me. Your milage may vary.

  2. Is your decision to sell off the diversified properties and move to more liquid assets a reflection of your concern about a future financial crisis?

    1. Yes. This is a simple “buy low, sell high” arrangement. People who bought property in 2006 got hammered in the last recession. People who sold were able to cash out at the top of a bubble. People who bought in 2010 at the bottom of the last trough saw their value increase nicely in recent years. It appears to me that we’re bubble-ish again and this is a good time to sell and remain liquid, then buy back in after the next pop.

  3. Do you have any advice on building resilience for people with zero or negative assets and inconsistent or low income? I’m a fan of your strategy but don’t see how to use it for myself other than avoiding getting further in debt.

    1. I had “negative assets” for most of my life. So did my parents. I feel you.

      My strategy has always been to reach out to like-minded people and work cooperatively to achieve goals that no one of us could attain individually.

      For example, when I was young and infinitely poorer I identified a small apartment building in a sketchy part of town and convinced a group of friends to move in together as tenants. Then we pooled our modest savings and purchased the building as “investors” from our landlord. Then we rented the units to ourselves. Over the decades we eventually converted the building to condos and now have segregated ownership of discrete apartments.

      These days I’m getting older and I’m reaching out to young families with small children who can’t afford to buy a home in the locations they really want. I don’t have children so I’m looking for people who might look after me in my dotage. So I rent to them at below market rates – and I have to leave my stuff to someone…

  4. “I’m keeping other options open by being ready, willing, and able to just walk away from everything and starting over elsewhere if need be.”

    This is what I like about equities. A block of stock in a company like L’Oreal, Becton Dickinson, 3M, Lindt & Sprungli or Brown Forman is like a portable fruit tree. If you buy smartly, and buy to keep (the so-called punch card approach) then it adds up over a life time and it follows you wherever you need to go.

  5. “I’m keeping other options open by being ready, willing, and able to just walk away from everything and starting over elsewhere if need be.”

    This is what I like about equities. A block of stock in a company like L’Oreal, Becton Dickinson, 3M, Lindt & Sprungli or Brown Forman is like a portable fruit tree. If you buy smartly, and buy to keep (the so-called punch card approach) then it adds up over a life time and it follows you wherever you need to go.

  6. “…walk away from everything and starting over elsewhere if need be.”

    I’m in the UK at the moment “on holiday”. I can’t help but contemplate what it’d be like to live here and start over. Not a bad place. A green, mild and pleasant land. NHS. British humor, history and real ale.

    However, it’s a small island with 60 million people. Ethnic and class tensions. A hyper financialized economy.

    No place is perfect. But anywhere in the English speaking world (excluding exurbia) is pretty darn good by me.

    Where are some places on your start over list? What’s your criteria?

    1. I was a scholarship student in the U.K. many years ago and saw both the advantages and drawbacks of the island, as you have noted.

      My first relocation choice is Philly. I like the city and the surrounding countryside. I have people there. It’s relatively affordable. And Pennsylvania has the ability to feed its population and supply all other critical needs. If not Philly, I’ve discovered that most medium sized towns stretching from the Pacific Northwest, across to the Great Lakes, and over to New England are livable for me. I’d be comfortable as far south as about Cincinnati. I know people who have an internal comfort map that’s the exact opposite and who couldn’t live far outside the old Confederacy for various reasons. We all find our niche.

      1. Philly is an interesting choice. Within an hour of Portland OR is my first choice (because of family). Ireland would be the extreme one (because I maybe can get a EU passport).

        Those aren’t exotic choices but I think people are very unrealistic when it comes to plan B or C. Beyond prepper type concerns, you gotta have family or some cultural ties (e.g. the English language) to make it long term, as well as simple logistics like working, schools and visas and such.

        Otherwise, you’re just a lonely expat in Panama or home schooling in Idaho or whatever. I guess that fantasy appeals to some but personally I like civilization. I just want it to be sustainable.

      2. I agree re SE Pa, but think I’d opt for something closer to the farmland, maybe Chester County outside the 202 beltway, over toward Lancaster County. The growing season there is very long for being on the 40th Parallel in the eastern US, and there is plentiful water. Phoenixville, Coatesville, West Chester, Lancaster, Millersville…any number of small cities and towns originally platted in the 1700s.

        1. I would prefer a little apartment in the South Street area of Philly and a modest rural cottage around New Hope, but any number of arrangements could work. My primary avoidance is those aging nuclear power stations in Gloucester in Jersey and good old Three Mile Island in Harrisburg.

          1. Yeah, I forgot about good ol’ TMI. Philly is only about 80-85 miles upwind, and New Hope maybe 95. (I lived in Philly when the “incident” happened. A group of us had go-bags and a rally point. We were young and planned to make our escape to a friend’s place in Ontario if the evacuation was imminent, but we wouldn’t have lasted long as we lacked money beyond enough for gas and a week’s worth of food.)

            New Hope (and most of semi-rural Bucks County) is pricey by Philly standards, but you can probably buy a Society Hill condo plus the cottage for less than the value of your SF condo. The advantages of appreciated real estate…

            When you posted this, it hit a chord as I had also decided on the Philly area if the SHTF. Mom and dad are old school. They still garden and preserve lots of food and have a big house. 🙂

            1. There is no perfect place. I was in Ukraine a few years ago and visited Pripyat and Chernobyl. Oddly, I’m much more relaxed about nuclear accidents now having seen a worst case scenario up close. It’s bad…. but life goes on.

              Whenever someone says they’re going to move to Vermont (or some similar rural idyll) I ask how they’ll respond if the Yankee or Millstone plants on the Connecticut River pop. My point is, there is no perfect place. Might as well get comfortable with wherever you are.

              1. I’ve felt Philly was a bit too big and was looking more in the Lancaster area myself. Compact, dense downtown. Plenty of suburban sprawl on the edge but that’s outside city limits and there’s a ton of farmland within a 10-mile walk.

                How seriously do you worry about TMI?

                1. There are about 100 nuclear plants around the country. I don’t “worry” about them so much as I’m aware that while they are very safe most of the time, every once in a while one of them experiences a serious problem. I see them like earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. They exist in most populated areas and they need to be factored in.

                  1. Probably the gravest concern of one is pretty close to where I grew up.
                    Crystal River.
                    They broke the thing.

  7. I really enjoy your very practical future-proofing approach. Although, really, it can only ever be future-hedging. I have a mortgage-free house in the centre of a small city, while my partner lives in an off-grid cabin on a mountain half-an-hour away. I like to think that between us we could cover most likely problem scenarios, including getting old and needing to live near a hospital! We also have just enough room to house all our adult children between us, if necessary. In fact, we could build a number of invisible cabins in the forest up on the mountain:)
    But still, like you, I believe that a web of community is key. Family, friends, useful community contacts, learning portable, useful skills, being a useful person who other people will seek out in a difficult situation, rather than being someone who is perceived as a burden. Yes, in that case, even walking away with nothing, you still have yourself as a valuable asset.

    1. I actually don’t have children so I aggressively seek out smart, capable, charming young people – particularly couples with young children – and pull them in to my orbit. I’ll need them in my later years. And they might benefit from whatever I have to offer.

  8. Geographic distribution of your assets is one strategy but I’m not sure how practical it is in the face of a major societal crisis if you need to rely on airplanes to get from place to place because the distances are unreasonable. I think your plan C of hardening in place is the more logical approach. But a key part of that is choosing the right place. 3 years ago my wife and I were living in Central Texas and had spent about 6 years exploring all the corners of the country to find a new place that made sense not just for us but looking forward for our kids. Texas is not sustainable for a whole lot of reasons including cultural.

    We visited and researched upstate New York, Minneapolis area, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and finally ended up in Camas WA which is more or less a streetcar suburb of Portland OR across the Columbia River. It’s an old papermill town with a walkable downtown and good bones that is rapidly gentrifying. Fire risk is low. Water is abundant. At the very northern edge of the Willamette Valley the climate is ideal for food production. And because we are backed against a National Forest and the Columbia River Gorge we are at the outer edge of development so won’t get overrun by leapfrogging sprawl. Of course the one big risk is the big earthquake that is apparently overdue in this part of the country. But a single family wood frame home on a flat lot is about as good as anything in a major quake. We aren’t doing nearly all that you are in terms of food and water. But with a stream behind our back yard and the Columbia River below us I’m not sure water is ever going to be that problematic.

    I do think you are really right about the little things. Smaller walkable communities with local food production are going to be the most sustainable answer to climate change, especially in northern states with abundant water.

    1. Funny, a lot of people I know are moving to Texas because they think California is doomed.

      I’ve spent entirely too much time thinking about this stuff for years. In the end… Whoever you are and wherever you live it’s important to have some basic back-up systems in place. Preparing for change in sito is better than daydreaming about the perfect place that probably doesn’t really exist. Live in the desert? Ramp up your water resilience. Live in North Dakota? Focus on keeping warm. If you’re a black lesbian in Mississippi… buy a gun.

      1. Johnny, California expats are snapping up all of the houses in my neighborhood. I frequently read –here and elsewhere– that this is happening all over the country…any nice place to live is filling up with Californians.

        I can of course come up with a lot of reasons why someone would leave CA, and want live where I do, but I would like to hear your perspective. What would you say are the top ten reasons in order of importance, that so many are leaving?

        1. Personally I need a town with a reasonable downtown core. It doesn’t need to be huge. I don’t require skyscrapers. Missoula or Bozeman work just fine. Most places are 99% suburban sprawl so the immediate neighborhood is more important than the larger metro. If a town doesn’t have at least some minimum walkability and some respectable Norman Rockwell bones I scratch it off my list.

          I’ve written about this several times. Here are a few links.


          1. I have a good idea what you consider good alternatives to CA, and I agree. I’m just wondering: the CA expats seem to have a boatload of cash because they buy $1M+ houses here for all cash. One of my CA neighbors bought her house, then when the one across the street came on the market she bought that one too. If a person was able to make that much money in CA and still left, there must have been some pretty compelling reasons to leave. Any other reasons besides wildfires and the constant smoke, earthquakes, traffic, population, high cost of real estate and cost of living? Incidentally, I live in Edmonds, WA and we have most of those problems too…they still come. I’ve always left places when they weren’t working out for me any longer, in what ways is CA “not working out” for so many very wealthy Californians?

            1. The migration out of California isn’t complicated. It’s straight up arbitrage. Someone who bought a nothing special tract house in the right location in LA or the Bay Area twenty years ago can now sell it at an enormous profit and roll that cash over into a much nicer yet less expensive place in a better quality neighborhood in another state. It’s not about income or savings. It’s about cashing out equity.

              1. Also about de-leveraging and de-risking. Cash is safer than bubble real estate or bubble tech stocks, as long as you don’t keep it in a suitcase under your bed.

  9. I just checked home insurance for my area and it does include earthquake, probably because it is stable earthquake free zone.
    I admit I have no insurance at all.
    My reasoning is that I live on a hill in a solid double brick and clay tile cottage and have full control of the property with no mortgage.
    But most importantly I am in expensive city area, so in my case the empty land value is about the same as my current property value, so my house destruction would not be the end of the world for me.
    To be honest I resent paying insurance when I know some of it is being using to pay out on fraudulent claims and people that don’t take care and responsibility for their property
    I also enjoy trying to lower my spending.
    I just got an online insurance quote for my place and it was S1,200, ouch.
    But of course I can see what you are doing makes perfect sense, it just depends on your situation.

    1. There are many forms of insurance. Some come from an actual insurance company. Others include being free of debt, having critical supplies like food and water on hand. Others relate to having a broad range of friends, family, and other social connection the draw upon in an emergency. So if you feel paper insurance isn’t required in your situation that may not be a problem. But make sure you have the other forms worked out.

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