Rental Real Estate Investing Done Right

How a 24-year-old pharmacist (and amateur samurai :) ) started a rental-income side hustle that 4 years later is on track to let him retire by age 31

Ryan Chaw striking a pose with his katana sword.
Ryan Chaw striking a pose with his katana sword.
Ryan Chaw, amateur samurai (photo from Dr. Chaw).

I’d always heard about people who start investing in rental real estate on the side, and over the years build that up to the point that it lets them stop working for others, and have much more flexibility and leisure in life.

Then, I met someone like that in real life.

A neighbor six houses down the street from us built up his portfolio each time he moved from one house to the next. He’d keep the old house and add it to his rental portfolio.

That gave me the idea of doing the same when we moved out of that neighborhood and into our dream home. I even wrote about it on Medium in a piece (“Real Estate Investment Can Leverage Your Results”) rebutting an opinion expressed by Ben LeFort that real estate is the most over-hyped investment. …

Data Analysis Can Teach Us Valuable Lessons

31 lessons I learned from you, my audience

Serious-faced youngster reading book in a library.
Serious-faced youngster reading book in a library.
Photo by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash

There are several reasons why I write on Medium.

The most important of those is making an impact, helping others learn from my mistakes and successes.

In 2020, I published 80 articles on Medium, just under 7 per month on average. Most showed mediocre performance, some did really well, and some did so poorly that I cringe. But they all taught me valuable lessons.

Why You Should Look at Your Medium Earnings (and Why I Look at Mine)

The best proxy Medium gives us to measure our impact, as of October 2019, is how much our articles earn.

That’s because even more than number of claps, reads, or even minutes read, earnings tell us what fraction of our readers’ Medium time was spent reading our articles. …

How What You Know Can Hurt Your Finances

“It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So” — Anonymous (sometimes attributed to Mark Twain)

Man with a surprised expression.
Man with a surprised expression.
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

I love a great debate, and personal finance is a most fertile ground for those.

It’s why they call it personal finance. Because the right answer almost always starts with, “That depends…”

My most recent debate was with Jason Clendenen, about whether your home should be counted as an asset or a liability. In short, I hold that it’s an asset, while Mr. Clendenen cites Robert Kiyosaki and insists that it’s a liability.

Read on, and decide for yourself. It could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Clendenen’s Position and Argument

Clendenen argues that you should “beware of mainstream financial advice,” arguing that your home is a liability by citing Robert Kiyosaki (of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame) saying, “One of the most important is a new definition for assets and liabilities: Assets put money in your pocket. …

It’s Smart to Have an Emergency Fund, but Can You Invest It?

Why I don’t keep lots of money in safe accounts and how to figure out if you should make the same choice

Sign pointing to emergency exits
Sign pointing to emergency exits
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

You must have an emergency fund!

So say almost all financial professionals. And I agree, for most people.

But what if you really don’t need an emergency fund, at least not in the conventional sense?

Why Most People Need an Emergency Fund (Does this Include You?)

Unless you’re still fully dependent on your parents, you probably have at least some financial obligations.

It may be something as small as your share of the rent for that place you’re living in with several housemates. It may be a car loan payment. It may be paying full rent for your place. It may be paying your mortgage. …

You Can’t Live a Life You Love Without Knowing Yourself

Lessons learned going from a dream career to slogging in order to pay the bills, and pivoting to a new dream career

Silhouette of buy on top of ladder to the sky
Silhouette of buy on top of ladder to the sky
Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash

If you started reading this, I think it’s safe to assume you’re working hard, probably harder than you want.

If so, that begs the question, why are you working so effing hard?

This question is especially relevant for me these days, as I realized I’ve said “yes” to too many things, leading to feeling overwhelmed and that my life is out of balance.

That in turn led me to reflect on my twisty career path, and how it impacted and continues to impact my life. Here’s what I learned from the journey.

How My Dream Career Turned into a Slog

I’d always wanted to be a physicist.

I completed my BSc with a double major in math and physics. Then a MSc in theoretical physics. Then a PhD in experimental physics. Then, a 5-year post-doc working on detector R&D. …

Real Estate Is Currently in a Huge Sellers’ Market, Making It Hard for Buyers

It’s a sellers’ market again in the real estate world — here’s how you can buy the home you’re interested in without paying exorbitantly more than the asking price

Model of a home sitting on a table with a key next to it.
Model of a home sitting on a table with a key next to it.
Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

It was spring 2005, and it was a sellers’ market out of hell, at least for buyers like us.

We were getting married, and couldn’t find a house to buy in our neighborhood that didn’t immediately get multiple offers, with many buyers willing to pay far above the asking price. It was getting close to our wedding day, and it became increasingly clear we wouldn’t be able to buy a house before that day.

Here’s how we won the bidding war without paying many tens of thousands of dollars over asking, like our competitors.

What’s a Sellers’ Market and How Do You Calculate If You’re in One Now?

Intuitively, it’s clear that when more people are looking to buy homes than there are homes available, sellers increase their asking prices and refuse to accept contingency clauses such as buyers’ previous homes selling before the deal finalizes. However, that’s not a very quantifiable definition. …

When Everything Feels Upside-Down, You Need to Change Things Up

To survive and thrive, your business needs you to adapt

A jet-ski caught upside-down with the rider’s head in the water and the jet-ski above.
A jet-ski caught upside-down with the rider’s head in the water and the jet-ski above.
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

It’s time to admit to ourselves that we need to consider that as upside-down as it may feel, this is our new normal.

I’ve been working 100% remotely for 8 months now, and counting.

At first, I loved not having to commute 45 minutes or more each way to the office. I’ll also confess that wearing jeans and a polo shirt to work each day was a big plus for me…

However, after so many months, I’m really missing the camaraderie of walking into a colleague’s office and chatting about things both professional and personal. …

Why Blindly Following Made-Up Rules Can Be Dangerous to Your Financial Health

Debunking a fake “rule” to save you a ton of money

Antique scale used to weigh merchandise.
Antique scale used to weigh merchandise.
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

The “5% rule” was developed by YouTuber Ben Felix and written about at some length by Ben Le Fort. Felix tried to create a simple rule of thumb to help people rationally figure out the merits of renting a house vs. buying.

In brief, the math proposed by Felix tries to capture the financial cost of buying a home as follows:

  • The cost of property tax — according to Felix this is 1% of a home’s cost
  • The cost of maintenance — Felix estimates this too at 1%
  • The capital cost of buying a home’s — Felix estimates this as 3% on every dollar you pay toward the cost of the home (down payment and the principal portion of every mortgage payment, based on stocks having a 3% higher the long-term annual return than real estate), and 3% mortgage interest…

College Is Ever More Expensive — Here’s What You Can Do About It

Here’s a collection of highly effective tips from my experience putting 2.75 kids through college (the youngest is still in school)…

Female student in graduation regalia, seen from behind, with a crowd of other students out of focus in the background.
Female student in graduation regalia, seen from behind, with a crowd of other students out of focus in the background.
Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

The cost of a college education appears to always go up.

This is especially true when compared to the flat or even drooping inflation-adjusted income of most Americans.

If you’re a parent, and especially if your kid is young, here are 5 effective tips (plus a bonus one) that will help put your kid through college without breaking the bank or taking on enormous student-loan debt.

Tip 1: Start Saving For College ASAP

I’ve been there, so I know this is not easy to do!

If you’re a young parent, you may be facing the double crunch of an insufficient income and high child-raising expenses.

Still, I’m sure you can find a way to squeeze out of your budget at least $25 a month, right? That’s the minimum regular investment required (for example) by T. Rowe Price’s Maryland College Investment Plan. If you get an average 7%/year investment return, that $25/month investment could build up to over $10k in the course of 18 years! …

Shopping for Gifts Isn’t a Competition Sport, but You ***Can*** Ace It

It’s almost the Holiday season, and here’s how you can ace your gift shopping if you start now…

Elegant young woman holding multiple bags from store purchases.
Elegant young woman holding multiple bags from store purchases.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

With the Holiday season fast approaching, you need to read this now so you don’t run out of time and spend far too much on Holiday gifts (this was originally published in 2019, so adjust as needed to stay safe).

A Metaphor for Holiday Gift Shopping

You’re on a small boat in a wide river. The water moves calmly, almost majestically downstream. All around you are other people, each in his or her own little boat, and you’re all floating downstream. Some are caught in a little extra-fast eddy, moving downstream a bit faster. Others, in a calmer part of the river, float more slowly. …


Opher Ganel

Consultant | physicist | sys eng | writer |financial strategist ( | avid reader | amateur photographer and artist ➜

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