{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Inertia

in ·er ·tia

noun

  • the tendency not to change what is happening
  • the force that causes something moving to tend to continue moving, and that causes something not moving to tend to continue not to move
  • a situation in which there is very little activity or interest, or people are unwilling to make an effort to change

Change is hard.

It takes energy.

Requires effort.

Invokes fear and risks failure.

Inertia is easy. Apathy is our default behaviour. Winning out more often than many would care to admit.

Occasionally, there comes a tipping point. That boil-over moment when maintaining the status quo is no longer acceptable.

Sometimes reaching that point is organic. An accumulation of small frustrations and compromises that eventually reach critical mass.

Other times it is engineered. Poking the bear. Triggering a meltdown. Upsetting the applecart.

Pushing buttons that play on controlling tendencies. Ego. Fear. Hubris. Jealousy. Shame. Spite. Or vanity.

Recently, I have found myself reaching the tipping point on several fronts. Spurred into action after having long put up with suboptimal experiences or implementations. The action required to overcome each issue was, for the most part, small and inexpensive. Yet I had allowed apathy and inertia carry me along.

Crappy wifi…

One of the greatest cons of the 21st century has been the notion of “fast” broadband.

Broadband providers advertise connectivity speeds of up to one gigabyte per second.

That may even have been true at some point, back when the first customer connected to the fibre optic cable that brought internet to their street.

Then the second customer shared the connection.

And the third.

By the time the 50th household signed on, that gigabyte worth of bandwidth was being asked to service dozens of concurrent Amazon Prime, Disney+, Netflix, Sky Sports, and Spotify connections.

Meanwhile, legions of teenagers were locked in their bedrooms watching Pornhub, TikTok, and YouTube.

Now throw in a collection of video calls using FaceTime, Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom.

The end result can be a traffic jam. Contention at peak times. The further you live from the exchange, the more congested the journey experienced by your internet traffic. Generally speaking, the network copes surprisingly well with the ever-increasing load placed upon it by consumers. Unless you live in Australia and have to use the NBN for your internet. Those poor unfortunate folks have my utmost sympathies!

The con is that it is technically impossible for that vast number of broadband users to actually experience those “fast” speeds. How so, I hear you ask? Because they use wifi devices to access it.

Back in the olden days, wifi speeds topped out at a maximum of 54 megabytes per second. That meant that while you may have had a super fast broadband connection to your house, the devices connecting to it via wifi were only able to use 5% of the speed you may have been paying for.

Today, it is technically possible for modern wifi routers to support data transfer rates of over 3 gigabytes per second in ideal conditions. Shifting the bandwidth bottleneck from your house back out onto the street.

Technically possible, but highly unlikely. Especially if your ancient wifi printer or Nana’s first-generation smartphone is still accessing the network!

I rent a ~120-year-old, three-storey mid-terrace house with brick walls and crappy electrics.

My computer can currently see 15 different wifi networks. Each competing within a limited frequency spectrum.

The point at which the broadband and cable television enters the house is in a distant corner located next to a window, well away from where the bulk of the bandwidth-intensive activities are undertaken.

Designers of optimal wifi setups would describe this arrangement as being suboptimal. Almost exactly wrong!

Shortly after we moved in, there was a swift and painful mutiny in the ranks, when my family discovered they were unable to access the internet from upstairs. I quickly invested in some powerline adapters which allowed the house’s electrical wires to pretend they were network cables.

This made it possible to get wifi upstairs and in the loft, but it was far from ideal.

Given the mouse eaten electrics and the thick walls, the fastest connectivity speeds we could achieve were in the mid 20 megabytes per second, or just 2.5% of the speeds we were paying for.

Bandwidth was never good enough to reliably do video calls upstairs. The closer a person sat to the router, the better their internet experience. Which my kids quickly figured out, resulting in their watching streaming services and playing Xbox downstairs.

Once the pandemic lockdown commenced, my lady wife and I were each spending an unhealthy number of hours each day in teleconferences. My elder son was ensconced in Google Classroom.

The wifi coped. But barely.

Then in the afternoons, once school had finished, the gaming and video streaming would commence.

Teleconferences broke up in static or buffered horribly.

The other call participants might catch every third word, if they were lucky.

One day I was doing due diligence on a takeover target, who asked if I was planning to audition for a role as a robot in the next Transformers movie? It sounded like I was rehearsing for the part!

Enough was enough.

I did some research, then invested in a handful of frisbee shaped wifi extenders.

These devices created a wifi “mesh” covering the whole house. No more coverage dead spots or connections dropping out while walking between rooms. The products in question use a clever “backhaul” mechanism to allow the wifi nodes to happily talk to one another without being interrupted by all the internetting taking place throughout the house.

The other selling point was the ability to prioritise the bandwidth needs of some devices over others. Now my work computer can pull rank over the kids watching Netflix, and the conference calls no longer buffer or break up.

I wish I could tell you that my new setup had wifi devices enjoying gigabits per second of bandwidth throughout the house. Alas, that would be a lie. The speeds have roughly doubled what was available previously, bringing us up to around 50 megabytes per second.

Which was state of the art 20 years ago!

… and then you die

Eventually, every one of us dies. The only uncertainties are the manner and timing of this event.

Life insurance is a bit like visiting the dentist. Good for us, but full of existentialist angst. Not something we take particular delight in thinking about. Let alone doing.

As with any insurance, life insurance involves the transfer of risk. The risk in this instance is that the assured does not survive the policy term. The more likely that outcome, the greater the premium that an insurer will demand to take on that risk.

Some folks view life insurance as a kind of guaranteed lottery win for their family. The beneficiaries receiving a life-changing amount of money when their loved one expires. Not a fantastic trade in many cases, but better than a hat full of rabbits.

Others take a more measured view, selecting a coverage level sufficient to pay off the mortgage, and allow the survivors to lead a life relatively free from financial distress. Lower premiums. Less risk of overeager beneficiaries skipping ahead to the end of the story.

Whatever the coverage level, life insurance contains a potential trap for the unwary.

By default, the proceeds are subject to inheritance tax at rate of 40% over a given threshold.

Which is a lot when you think about it.

The beneficiary might have been pondering blowing the hard earned savings that their parents had diligently squirrelled away over their lifetimes on a shiny new Ferrari. A luxury round the world cruise. Or remodelling their home in line with the latest designer fad.

Suddenly that newfound wealth receives a major haircut.

A Ferrari becomes a Ford Fiesta.

That luxury cruise becomes a trip to Center Parcs.

The designer kitchen is more likely to be sourced from Ikea than Italy.

The good news is that inheritance tax in the United Kingdom is a form of idiot tax, paid only by those too uninformed or too lazy to avoid it.

A simple piece of paper can dispel the vampiric taxman faster than a plate of garlic prawns and a sun lamp.

Instructing the life insurance policy to pay out into a trust, rather than directly to the beneficiaries.

Instantly the payout is considered to have been outside of the deceased estate, and therefore not subject to inheritance taxes.

I’ve known that I should take care of this particular piece of administrivia for a long time. Yet my powers of procrastination have proven stronger than my desire to tick off an outstanding item on my ToDo list.

Putting the paperwork in place turned out a relatively cheap and trivial undertaking.

Yet the potential benefits to those loved ones I am seeking to provide for is vast.

Inertia

My list of long-neglected minor irritants and administrivia had grown longer than I would care to admit.

I knuckled down and gradually chipped away at them. None were particularly difficult, just not fun or interesting.

Some of them actually turned out to be profitable or productive.

A materially better deal on landlord insurance.

Setting up hardware-based two factor authentication tokens to protect my email account.

Next job on my list was to go through the “box of doom”, the terrifying plastic crate full of miscellaneous chargers and random cables that inhabits the cupboard under the stairs. Seemingly amassing and multiplying further every year.

My face fell.

Shoulders slumped.

An involuntary sigh escaped my lips.

I felt my resolve weakening. My newly rediscovered productivity diminish. Then vanish entirely.

The “box of doom” could wait until tomorrow.

Or next year.

Maybe I should leave it to my kids in my will? Let them deal with it. It might distract them from squandering their inheritance!


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7 Comments

  1. weenie 25 June 2020

    The only thing I’ve done recently along the lines of this post is that I finally got round to arranging for my ISA and SIPP fees to be paid externally so that all investments within said accounts will grow without being reduced by the fees. I’ve done this for two of my accounts, one more to go.

    I have various ‘boxes of doom’ scattered about the house – not sure I’ll ever be ready to tackle them!

  2. GentlemansFamilyFinances 25 June 2020

    thanks for the comment on life insurance.
    My understanding was that it was free from tax
    However, if the total value of your estate is more than £325,000, inheritance tax (IHT) will be deducted from your insurance pay-out at a rate 40%!
    However, I’m do not have to pay any Inheritance Tax on money or property left to them by their spouse.
    Of course giving your spouse a tax-free reason for having you dead is another story.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 25 June 2020 — Post author

      Thanks GFF.

      It can be free of inheritance tax, but not by default. There is usually a tick box on the workflow when you take out a life insurance product, but it is opt in rather than opt out.

      The other big tax dodge for inheritance tax is your principle place of residence. Spouse/kids/grandkids don’t pay tax on that providing your estate is worth less than a couple of million in total.

  3. Steveark 25 June 2020

    My EERO mesh system was dirt cheap and it’s good up to 500Mps everywhere in our two story house. However we live in the country and don’t have to worry about interference from neighbors, the houses are acres apart. As for life insurance, almost everybody buys term life here because by the time the twenty or thirty year term is up you should have more than enough assets to self insure and you can cancel the policy. Whole or permanent life insurance is generally a very poor investment vehicle because it is so expensive. I couldn’t tell which kind you were taking about, it sounded like permanent insurance. Here we don’t have inheritance tax until you exceed 11 Million USD as a couple so it isn’t a concern for most people.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 25 June 2020 — Post author

      Thanks Steveark. I’m envious of your wifi speeds there in rural Arkansas! There is a lot to be said for living the good life there.

      Whole or permanent life insurance is generally a very poor investment

      Agreed. Term life insurance is the way to go, while you have debts (for example, a mortgage) that your family wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily manage. Once that is no longer the case, life insurance is no longer required.

      Here we don’t have inheritance tax until you exceed 11 Million USD as a couple so it isn’t a concern for most people.

      Only about 5% of people are subject to it here, despite the thresholds being much lower. The family home is generally exempt, provided it is inherited by a spouse/child/grandchild, and truth is most people simply don’t have anywhere near enough in other assets to be troubled by the issue.

  4. Fire And Wide 27 June 2020

    This one struck a chord with me for sure. We’ve had several “why didn’t we just do this earlier” moments.

    I agree with the tipping point – to my mind it happens once the perceived pain of something becomes greater than the expected effort to fix it. The problem being we have a natural habit to always over-estimate the effort and under-estimate the pain!

What say you?

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