Thursday, July 26, 2018

Free Things to Do in New York City

New York City is one of those places on many people's bucket list.  Its high cost of living means that it can be an expensive place to visit.  However, if you mix a few freebies in with your paid attractions, it can reduce the price of your visit substantially.  Let's take a look at some freebies:

Broadway in Bryant Park

No, it's not the same as sitting in a Broadway theater watching your favorite show, but the singers at this free lunchtime event do a good job, so grab some lunch, a sunhat, and a blanket and join a few hundred of your best friends and enjoy a free treat.  

Even if it is the season for Broadway in Bryant Park, check the calendar; they offer a variety of performances throughout the year.  See what's on tap when you are in town and enjoy what the locals enjoy.

Walk Through Central Park

When you say "park" and "New York City" in the same sentence, most people think "Central Park".

You can spend the day walking through the park, admiring the statues, and watching the people.  Central Park also offers numerous free performances from Shakespeare to Praise and Worship music. 


Trinity Episcopalian
Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine

St. Patrick's Cathedral
The tomb of Alexander Hamilton is in the
churchyard of Trinity Episcopal Church
 Before you say that you aren't religious, or that you attend services in a school auditorium, realize that churches, particularly Catholic and Episcopalian churches from the 1800's and early 1900's, are full of artwork such as stained glass, statues and reliefs, and murals.  Many are open during working hours and do not charge an entrance fee (though donations are appreciated). The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine does charge an admission fee but the gardens can be toured at no cost. 

Staten Island Ferry

Ok, technically the Staten Island Ferry isn't free.  However, it is part of the city transit system and if you have purchased a week-long Metro Card transit pass for $32, you have purchased a ferry ticket. 

These two photos were taken with a point-and-shoot digital camera from the Staten Island Ferry.  While you don't get the expert commentary a tour boat would provide, and while you do not actually get onto Liberty Island or Ellis Island, this isn't bad for a drive-by. 

New York City has other ferries that charge $2.75 per ride,  which is still a bargain way to see the waterfront.

Your Metro Card transit pass also gets you on the Roosevelt Island Tram, an overhead gondola system that travels between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, which is in the East River.

National Museum of the American Indian

In the old Alexander Hamilton Customs House, the National Museum of the American Indian is run by the Smithsonian.  Seeing the interior of the building is worth the admission price (free).  There are displays of Native American artifacts, art created by Native Americans and artwork by others featuring Native Americans. 

 It features both a substantial permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions.

New York Public Library

Yes, a library is on the list of things to see in NYC.  First, go visit the original Winnie the Pooh and friends in the children's section.  You can also see Mary Poppins' umbrella.

Then, head to the special exhibits.  Last week there was a big display on the 1960's.  While I was alive, I'm too young to remember this time but the library had newspaper clippings, magazine covers and artifacts to tell the story of this time that is so much like today.  They also had a display of sacred books from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  The books are beautiful, even if you aren't a believer.  

Nope, not another church.  This ceiling is inside the library.  Yes,  you need to see it for yourself.

Oh, and don't leave without taking a picture with a lion.

Federal Hall

Federal Hall is where George Washington took the oath of office for the first time.  It is a small building with steep steps but is worth a few minutes if you haven't seen it.  

The Major Attractions

Most of the big things "everyone" goes to New York City to see charge admission--often $25 per person and up. Still, even the budget-challenged can see many of them, with good planning:

The 911 Memorial offers free admission from 5:00 p.m. to closing at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesdays.  Tickets are distributed starting at 4:00 p.m. 

The American Museum of Natural History offers pay what you wish admission.  

Friday nights from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. are pay what you wish at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Many other attractions offer free or pay what you wish at certain times.  While the Metropolitan Museum of Art is on the list, it currently only offers "pay what you wish" to local residents, not to tourists.  

Do you have any free favorites in New York City?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review of M1 Finance--You Can Get $10 of Free Stock

As an investor, minimizing fees is one of my goals.  Most research has shown that paying more investing fees does not result in better outcomes for the investor.

The internet and computerized trading have made it possible to buy and sell securities for no or low fees.  I've written previously about Robinhood, Motif, and Stockpile.  None of those companies would have been economically viable twenty years ago.  Recently, another competitor to them has emerged, M1 Finance.

What is M1 Finance?

M1 Finance is an on-line stockbroker whose specialty is "Pies"--portfolios of multiple stocks and/or ETFs, which can be purchased for no commission or trading fee.  When you open your account, you decide what percent of your money you want allocated to what security.  You can decide whether you want one "pie" (proportionately divided portfolio)  or several.

For example, you could decide that you want your money invested 25% in Amazon, 25% in CVS, 10% in AT%T, and 40% in Vanguard's Total Bond Market ETF.  You would design a "pie" with those percentages and then send M1 some money--$100 minimum to start--and it will be invested that way.  M1 allows investment in fractional shares, and only invests at the first morning opening price.

Keeping Your Account In Balance

Obviously, your pie is not going to stay perfectly balanced for long.  One of those slices is going to outperform the others, expanding its slice and decreasing theirs.  However, when you deposit more money, M1 uses it to put your pie back in balance.  If stocks have fallen, and the bond ETF is now 50% of your pie, your new money will go into stocks until such time as your ratios are back on track.  If you have basically good securities in your pie, this technique helps you buy low.

Of course the other side of that equation is to "sell high".  If you want to withdraw an amount of money (as opposed to wanting to liquidate a particular position), M1 Finance tries to do so in a way that keeps your pie balanced and is tax-advantageous.  However, it does not offer automatic tax loss harvesting.

Finally, M1 has a button you can push to re-balance your pie.  

Opening an Account

Opening an account with M1 Finance is easy.  Go to their website, create an account, link your bank account and then verify the micro-deposits--nothing you haven't done with any other online financial account.  Make your first deposit, which can be as little as $100.

Adopt a Pie

M1 Finance offers "Expert Pies" designed by their firm, or you can create your own pie.  If you have not already done so, when you log on you'll see a button to create a pie, and once you push it, you'll be taken to a screen called "Add Slices".  From there, you can choose stocks, funds, expert pies,my pies or watchlist.  

If you select an expert pie, you are taken to a screen that briefly describes the types of expert pies.  Two are "Income Earners" and "Hedge Fund Followers".  If you click on one of those it takes you to a list of pies.  The list shows the number of holdings, the dividend yield, a performance graph, performance in the last 1, 3 and 5 years and a risk rating.  Selecting one of the pies takes you to a screen that shows the holdings, a description of the pie and a description of the methodology used to select the holdings.  

Some of the pies use stocks, others use ETFs and still others a combination. 

Target Date pies come in five year increments in conservative, moderate and aggressive flavors.  As the target date nears, the portfolio is automatically moved to a more conservative posture.  

Bake Your Own Pie

I've said it before and I'll say it again, even though I'm not an expert and nothing you read here should be construed as financial advice, the majority of your retirement money should be in a diversified portfolio of index mutual funds and/or ETFs.  However, if you want to put a few dollars into individual stocks of your own picking, M1 allows you to do that as well.

If you select "Stocks" in the "Add Slices" screen, you are taken to a stock screener where you can choose to invest in any of 4,258  companies. To help you narrow your search, there are some basic screens such as market capitalization, P/E Ratio, Dividend Yield and Sector.  

A search for Consumer Defensive companies that pay a 3% dividend or more, got me 28 choices.  Since more is better, I sorted by dividend yield, and then looked at the list.  The highest yielding company was Keurig Dr. Pepper but year to date, it was down 72%.  Continuing down the list, United Guardian was 28.2% ytd, and still pays a 5.07% dividend, so I clicked on it, which took me to a page with basic information about the company.  I learned that though it was up this year, long term, things don't look so good.  

If I want to search for a particular stock, I can do that too.  A nice thing about M1 finance is that you do not have to buy an entire share of stock; if you want to invest $100 in Alphabet (Google) you can buy 0.17 shares.  You do not have to wait  until  you have $1188.82.

In any case, I can select up to 100 different securities per pie, and you can create pies until you have amassed 500 different securities. You can decide the weight you want each to have in your pie.

Types of Accounts

Unlike some other no-fee brokers, M1 Finance offers a variety of types of accounts.  You can open an IRA, a Roth IRA, a SEP IRA or a Trust Account. While you cannot open a Custodial Account now, M1 plans to make them available soon.  

M1 Finance is making a bid to be your main broker. While they do not currently offer options trading, and while they only trade at market open every day, they offer a wide variety of stocks and ETFs.  


M1 does not charge a sales commission or an account fee, even with IRAs.  They do charge interest on margin accounts (accounts that let you borrow money to buy stock)  There are a few services for which they charge fees and you can see them here. 

Get $10.00 in Fee Stock

M1 Finance is giving $10.00 worth of free stock to anyone who uses this link (or the other links in this post) to open a first account with them--and they'll give me $10 too if you do.  It takes about two weeks for that money to hit your account, but can you tell me another safe investment that will pay you 10% in two weeks (if you invest the minimum of $100)?  

Disease Called Debt

Friday, July 6, 2018

Mid-Year Review of Investments

Like many financial bloggers, I'm taking a little time now that 2018 is half over to look at how things have gone for us so far this year.  Luckily, the answer to that question is "just fine, thank you".  Our net worth is higher than our next worth at the end of the year, plus what we have saved, so we are moving in the right direction, though like most people with money in the stock market, we haven't gotten rich.

About 10% of our income automatically goes into our 401k accounts, and we managed to save 5% of our income beyond that.

On the spending side, we have paid for a beach vacation for me and my husband and for part of a trip to New York for me and my daughter, besides the normal day in and day out bills.

Let's take a look at the investments:


My husband and I have Roth IRAs and regular IRAs, and a taxable account.  We deposited money in each Roth IRA this quarter and the money was taken from Lending Club and Prosper.   These accounts consist of a variety of mutual funds purchased for us by our ex-financial advisor, along with Vanguard's International Bond Index Fund, Total Stock Market Index Fund, 500 Index Fund, Total Bond Market Index Fund, Dividend Appreciation Fund, Emerging Markets Fund (new this quarter) and REIT Index Fund. In the last year, our rate of return has been 6.3% overall, but year-to-date, our returns are negative. 

One interesting figure Vanguard puts on its statements is your estimated yearly income and estimated yield from each fund, and for your account as a whole. Here are the figures for our accounts:

  • My IRA:  Estimated yield 2.24%
  • My Roth IRA:  Estimated yield 1.99%
  • Husband IRA:  Estimated yield 2.88%
  • Husband Roth IRA:  Estimated yield  2.67%
  • Taxable Joint Account:  Estimated yield 1.6%

My husband's IRA is the largest of these accounts and his return figures are higher than the other accounts because our REIT fund shares are in his accounts and they are high-yielding (4.59%).


My 401k has a year to date positive return.   It is invested in Janus Triton,  Oppenheimer Int'L Small Mid Co A, MFS Government Securities Fund-A , Pioneer Fundamental Growth Fd-A,  and Delaware US Growth Fund-A.  My firm contributes 5% of my salary, and I contribute 6%.  Dividends this year totalled about 1/6 of my take-home check.


My husband's 401K is with AXA and it has increased in value, though not a lot.  He puts in the minimum necessary for employer match.


It is interesting how changing the fee schedule changes my behavior.  Initially, Motif charged a transaction fee when you purchased stock, and that was it.  I invested via a few large chunks of money and then withdrew my dividends and invested them elsewhere.  Then Motif instituted periodic fees for accounts under $10,000.  I left the dividends in the account and deposited more money to bring the account to $10,000.  Next,  Motif started offering free opening price trades, so I used them to buy individual stocks.  When they instituted fees on Motifs (baskets of stocks) they designed, I looked at the ones I had, and sold the underperformers.  Now my Motif account has the following:

  • Buyback Leaders:  A collection of companies that were buying back their stock.  While it has been pretty flat this year, overall, since 2014, it has increased in value over 90%, mostly because of NVDIA, which is up over 900%.  
  • Growing Dividends:  A collection of dividend paying stocks.  It is up about 27% since purchase, whereas the S&P is up 42%.  However, it yields over 2% in dividends yearly.  Most of the stocks that are down are retail stocks, and they are actually gaining a little ground lately.
  • High Yield Dividend:  Another collection of dividend paying stocks.  It is up 16% vs 39% for the S&P, but the average dividend yield is over 3% per  year.
  • Online Gaming World:  This collection of gaming stocks such as Activision/Blizzard, Weibo, and Cheeta Mobile is up over 148% as opposed to the S&P's 37% gain.
  • Things I Like:  I designed this basket, and a lot of it is retail stocks, which I bought at the wrong time.  It is up 10.4%, as opposed to the S&P being up 38.3%.  My winners were Alibaba and Alphabet and my losers are Lending Club and Ascena (Dress Barn/Ann Taylor etc)
  • Online Video:  Includes Netflix and Adobe.  Up 153% as opposed to 37% for the S&P. 
  • Low Beta:  These companies, including McDonalds, are supposed to have a low correlation to the market as a whole.  They pay really good dividends (average is probably close to 4%).  The Motif is up 10.8% whereas the S&P is up 37%
  • NVDIA:  This is a chip maker whose stock increased tremendously in 2017.  When I sold a couple of motifs, I used some of the money to buy more stock in this company. Unfortunately, it has been flat since then.  
  • Adobe:  Another stock that was great last year, but is down since I bought it.
  • CBL:  Up over 27% since I bought it.  This is a mall REIT and pays a dividend over 17% of current price.  
  • Amazon:  Up 7.4% since I bought it.
  • Energy Transfer Partners:  Owns natural gas pipeline etc.  Up 8.52% since I bought it and the dividend yield is over 12%
  • GOV is a REIT that owns buildings rented to government agencies.  Up 30% since I bought it.  Current dividend yield is over 9%
  • Johnson & Johnson.  Down 2% since purchase.
  • Realty Income:  REIT.  Up 2.52% since purchase. Dividend over 4%.
  • Southern Company:  Power company.  Up 6.82 since purchase.  Dividend over 4%
  • Starwood Propertiess (hotel and resort REIT).  Up 1.48% since purchase.  
  • Visa.  Up 3.04%.  I'm dripping all my Motif dividends into Visa right now.  Current dividend 0.6%. 
  • Weibo:  Chinese company that made me a lot of money last year in the online gaming Motif.  However, since I bought these shares they are down.33.8%  Talk about a hit!
  • Walgreens:  Down 11.4%, but at least it pays a 1.87% dividend.  The company is making money so I'm hoping this turns around.  

Lending Club:

While my returns have been steadily dropping for  months, accounting for expected defaults, Lending Club estimates my return since I began the account at about 4.66%   whereas three months ago I wrote that it was 4.58%.  However, so far this year, I've lost more money to defaults than I've made in interest.  Definitely not what I had in mind.

 As my notes mature I'm moving the money to our Roth IRAs. . The economy on the whole is fine now; if I can't make money with Lending Club under this economy, I'm going to lose it big time if things go downhill.  The profits today do not justify the risk.


My returns here have dropped as well.  Three months ago my annualized net returns were 5.09%, and my "seasoned" returns--the returns on notes that are more than ten months old were 4.39%. Those figures have dropped to 4.08% and 3.93%.  As I receive payments from Prosper, they are going to our Roth IRAs.


I play with this account.  If I read an article about a stock that catches my eye, I'm likely to buy $50-100 worth for this account.  So far, I've invested a little under $2,000.  I usually set stop losses to I don't lose too much if the market goes down (and a couple of times I've repurchased for less after a stop-loss sell.  I ran the account through an XIRR calculator and I'm beating the S&P though not by much.

  • AT&T:  10 shares, average price $35.82,  Current price 32.68.  Dividend is $0.50 per share per quarter . No stop loss on this one; I bought it for the dividends.
  • Lending Club:  1 share purchased at $5.51.  Current price $3.74.  No dividends. No stop loss. 
  • Visa:  2 shares purchased at $78.00.  Current price $131.45.  $1.38 in dividends in 2017 and $0.84 so far this year. . I have a stop loss order placed at $125.00.
  • Hormel: 3 shares purchased at $31.80.  Current price 36.82.  2017 dividend was $0,51 per share; current quarterly dividend $0.56 per share.
  • Hanesbrands: 7 shares, average cost $19.20.  Current price $22.12,  Stop loss set at $19.70.  Dividend is $0.15 per share per quarter. 
  • CVS:  4 shares, average cost 70.64.  Current value $64.66.  Dividend is $0.50 per share  per quarter.  No stop loss.  
  • Qualcomm: 1 share purchased October 9 for $52.68.  Collected $1.14 in dividends before stop loss sale for $59.65.  
  • Mattel: 1 share purchased October 30 for $13.87. Current price $16.63. Stop loss sale for $15.00 on January 18. 
  • Ford: 3 shares purchased November 7, 2017 for $12.33.  Stop loss sell for  $11.50 on 1/25/18.  Repuchase for $11.00 on 2/1/18, and another share on August 5 for 11.37.  $0.15 per share in dividends. and then sold (stop loss) 6/25/18 for $11.40.  
  • Cardinal Healthcare.  1 share purchased November 27 for $56.42. Sold 2/5/18 for 64.98.  Repurchased on 2/5 for $64.70.  Stop loss sold again on 3/20 for $67.00, and repurchased for $66.50.  Quarterly dividend is $0.46.  Current price $49.50.
  • Omega Healthcare Investors.  1 share purchased December 6 for $26.75.  Current value $31.70. but my $26.00 stop loss executed on Feb 2 and I did not re-buy.  I did collect $0.66 in dividends so I'm only out a few cents.          
  • Ascena Retail Group. 3 shares purchased December 11 for $2.00.  Current value $3.79.  Stop Loss at $3.50.  
  • Macquarie Infrastructure. 1 share purchased December 26 for $64.18. Sold via stop loss on 2/6/ at $61.85.   Current value $42.82.  
  • Pfizer.  1 share purchased December 26 for $36.17,  Current value $36.35 but I sold on February 5 for $34.15.       
  • Giliad Sciences.  1 share purchased 1/19 for $81.30.  Stop loss sell 2/5 for $80.00. Repurchase for $79.00.  Quarterly dividend is $0.57.  Current value 71,33
  • ProAssurance.  1 Share purchased for $54.98.  Pays a quarterly dividend of $0.31 but its value has fallen to $36.05.  I should have set a stop loss.  
  • Viacom:  2 shares purchased for $33.31 each.  Current value $29.41.  Quarterly dividend of $0.20 per share.  
  • GE:  Another dog.  Purchased 3 shares at average cost of $15.90. Current value $13.41.  Quarterly dividend of $0.12.
  • Altababa:  Purchased 1 share for $80.00.  Current price $73.33.
  • CBL:  Purchased 13 shares for average price of $4.60.  Sold via stop loss at $5.50 on 6/21.  Repurchased at $5.48 (and added two more shares).  Current price $5.76.  Quarterly dividend is $0.20 per share.
  • Gamestop:  Purchased 1 share accidentally.  Decided to see what happened.  Cost was $17.05.  Current price  $14.63. Quarterly dividend is $0.38. 
  • Sprint:  I earned two shares via Robinhood's referral program.  Average value when awarded was $5.37.  Current value is $5.48.  
  • Macys: One share purchased for $24.00.  Current value $36.82. Quarterly dividend is $0.38.
  • GOV:  9 shares, average cost $12.93.  Current value $16.29.  Quarterly dividend is $0.43.  Stop loss set at $15.00.   
  • USA. 18 shares, average cost $6.35.  Current value $6.53.   Quarterly dividend of $0.17 per share.   
  • GLU Mobile:  Trying for a home run here.  20 shares; average cost $5.15.  Current value $6.38.  Stop loss set at $6.00 but I'm hoping for big things.  
  • Zynga:  2 shares awarded via Robinhood's referral program.   Average value when awarded was $4.36.  Current value $4.13.  
  • Delaware Investments Dividend Fund:  5 shares at $11.71.  Current value:  $11.92. 
  • New Residential Investments:  2 shares at $17.58.  Current value:  $18.04.              

 Robinhood is an online broker that now has both an app and a webpage.  They charge no commission and allow you to place limit or market orders.  They also allow you to initiate bank transfers and then invest the money immediately--you do not have to wait for the transfer to complete.  You do have to buy whole shares.

If you use this link to open an account with them, you and I will both receive a free share of stock. Here is a link to my review of Robinhood.


This is an online broker for whom I wrote a sponsored post.  I invested $100 in Johnson & Johnson through them.  They charge $0.99 per trade, so even though they sell fractional shares, I don't recommend investing less than $100.00 per trade.  Stockpile had a promotion where they were giving away $5.00 worth of Apple stock so I got mine.  At the end of the year this account was worth $100.46--Johnson and Johnson has not done well.

If you use this link, you get $5.00 worth of stock to begin your account with them, and I get $5.00 too. I wrote a full review of Stockpile a few months ago.

The Bottom Line

As I noted earlier, we haven't gained much in terms of increased account value, but we have managed to live on what we make, put money in our 401ks and even put a little more away.  It has been a pretty good six months, all things considered.

One thing many investors track is dividends.  By this time last year my dividends totalled $3,656.82.  This year they are up to $5,349.75.

How was the first half of 2018 for you?

Disease Called Debt