The Data-Driven Life
Living life by the numbers

Data-Driven Site of the Month: November 2018

Out of the previous posts on this site, the one about which I’ve received the most feedback has been this one about making money through the Michigan Lottery. A number of people who live in Michigan took advantage of the free money (which still is available at the time of this writing), and I received emails from people in other states asking about different games and +EV (positive expected value) opportunities in their particular state.

I can take the hint: What people want is an ongoing list of resources where they can personally profit or benefit from the data-driven thinking described throughout this blog.

So without further ado, here is the #1 new site I recommend for November 2018. This is a +EV opportunity like the Michigan Lottery, but it works in 25 states plus the District of Columbia, not just Michigan. (Eligible states are AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, GA, IL, KY, MI, MN, NE, NM, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, SD, TX, UT, WV, WI, and WY.)

The November 2018 Data-Driven Site of the Month is MyPrizePicks.com.

PrizePicks is a daily fantasy sports site where you choose whether players will go above or below a certain number of points to win cash. You can guess 2 over/unders to win 2.5 times your wager, guess 3 to win 5 times your wager, or guess 4 to win 10 times your wager.

Don’t watch sports? It doesn’t matter. Here’s how to guarantee a profit on that site:

1. Register on MyPrizePicks.com using referral code 014205. You will immediately get a free 2-player entry that would normally be worth $10. Guess two NBA over/unders (even if just by clicking randomly), and if you win (which should happen just less than 1/4 of the time, because ties lose), you’ll get a free $25. There’s a free $6.25 of EV right there.

2. Only deposit money when they offer you a 100%+ bonus. Offers for a 100% or even 150% deposit match bonus come from them fairly regularly. This past week, for example, they sent out an offer where you could deposit up to $1000 with a 100% match bonus and also receive a 50% rebate on NBA losses that same day.

I see an asterisk. There’s always an asterisk. So what’s the fine print?

Their next to last line has a typo but is saying that you must play through your deposited money once before withdrawing anything. Another interesting thing to know is that you can only wager $1000 per day on their site, and you can only bet up to $100 on any individual wager.

So the optimal play here is as follows: deposit $500. They will match it. Spend all $1000 on 2-player NBA games, but bet ALL FOUR POSSIBLE WAYS on the same 2 players. That is, bet on both players to go over their predicted scores, bet both to go under, bet the first to go over and the second to go under, and bet the first to go under and the second to go over. (Edit: this method is now banned on their site. Playing normally still results in the same +EV expectation, but with more variance.)

In this way you will win one of the four bets for certain unless a player ties their exact amount predicted. To mitigate that risk of a tie, I recommend spending $62.50/bet (so $250 to cover all four bets) and then repeating that four times with four different pairs of players. If you avoid all ties, your $1000 in bets will win $625, and you will also get a rebate of $187.50 (since you will have lost in $375 worth of real-money, not promo cash, games).

Playing through that $187.50 in a similar manner would lead to an EV result of $117.19. Thus you should end up with a withdrawable total of $742ish, for an overnight profit of $242 on your $500 investment.

(The reason depositing $1000 is not optimal in the example above in my opinion is because you can only spend $1000 per day, and your promo balance spends first, so you would not get any rebate. Avoiding ties, you would win $250 from this method, but there would be twice as many chances for ties. I recommend the $500 route instead.)

3. Only play the NBA games. As mentioned, all ties lose, and because of the way their scoring systems work, ties (where the player gets exactly the number of points you are betting the over/under on) happen far more often in other sports than they do in the NBA.

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I know that’s a pretty dense read, but if you register for MyPrizePicks.com (for free) with referral code 014205, you can use the free game to get acclimated to the site. Then you could just try depositing something like $50 the first time they give you the 100%+ match bonus, and you can figure the system out with smaller stakes before ramping it up to the max +EV possible.

If you know of other sites that offer +EV opportunities, please share them in the comments below or email me directly at mark@thedatadrivenlife.com. I’d love to take advantage of them with you and would love to highlight them in future posts as well.

Why “Rigorous” Math Mandates are a Failure

Think about the math instruction you received in school, especially at the secondary level. If you had a typical experience, you probably studied things like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. And, if you’re like most people, you don’t use the vast majority of that type of math very often at all.

Everyday math involving things like real-world data analysis and statistics (e.g. “Does this study really prove what it asserts?”), probability, interest rates, and personal finance usually receive very little focus in school — sometimes none at all, or perhaps just a brief mention in a separate (and sometimes optional) “life skills” class.

This should be reversed. The normal math track in high school should devote extensive time to statistics, probability, personal finance, and real-world math applications. Classes like trigonometry and calculus should be electives meant for students who plan to use those forms of math in their careers.

Andrew Hacker wrote a famous New York Times article back in 2012 arguing that algebra and advanced math should not be required of all students. In that article, he wrote:

“A definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above.”

He went on to support the importance of a focus on statistics in our math classrooms instead:

“Being able to detect and identify ideology at work behind the numbers is of obvious use. Ours is fast becoming a statistical age, which raises the bar for informed citizenship. What is needed is not textbook formulas but greater understanding of where various numbers come from, and what they actually convey.”

(If you’d like to dig deeper into this, a 10-minute interview with Mr. Hacker from two days ago, where he expounds on this view, can be found here.)

This blog, The Data-Driven Life, aims to fill this gap — showing people real-world math and data applications they can use to their benefit in everyday life. But we would all be better off if everyone came out of school already having been taught the types of math they need to thrive as informed citizens (and savvy shoppers) in their daily lives.

Top 8 Must-Reads for the Data-Driven Life

Looking for additional reading to help you live a Data-Driven life? I highly recommend the following:

1. Factfulness (by Hans Rosling): The world is better than you think. Despite the constant bombardment of negativity in the media, things are demonstrably, measurably, and significantly improving across a wide array of measurements. This book is designed to familiarize you with those optimistic statistics while also training you to think in a more data-driven way. The TED talk below is from this same author.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow (by Daniel Kahneman): Why do we think the way we do? This book is designed to give you insight into what drives your thinking, helping you to correct course when necessary.

3. Unscripted (by MJ Demarco): This book focuses on the invisible “scripts” we tend to believe and follow in our lives, with a particular emphasis on financially self-limiting beliefs we would do well to cast aside.

4. The Miracle Morning (by Hal Elrod): The best way to live an intentional life is to start each morning off right. Instead of waking up and immediately finding yourself overwhelmed, The Miracle Morning will show you how to start your day — and spend your time throughout the day — with intention and purpose.

5. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (by Daniel Pink): There’s a perfect time for everything, and Daniel Pink lays out the science behind how to optimally schedule your time. If you’re in charge of others, this book will also teach you how to manage the time of those you serve, in order to create a more successful work, school, or home environment.

6. The Power of Moments (by Chip and Dan Heath): It feels like the most powerful moments in life only happen spontaneously or by chance. In this powerful book, however, Chip and Dan Heath break down the key hallmarks of memorable moments, with a particular focus on helping the reader learn to intentionally create powerful moments for themselves and those around them. A wonderful read for business leaders, teachers, and parents alike.

7. Make It Stick (Peter Brown): Much of what we think we know about learning is simply untrue, and therefore many of the techniques we use to learn simply don’t work. Make It Stick uses a variety of stories to illustrate various ways we can help ourselves to learn more effectively. Not just for students, this book is excellent for all of us who strive to be lifelong learners.

8. Algorithms to Live By (Brian Christian): Borrowing from the wisdom of computer science, Algorithms to Live By applies programming solutions to real life. When you want to know whether to try a new restaurant or visit an old favorite, or you can’t decide where to park, this book will show you the optimal path to take.

In the comments, let me know: what other Data-Driven books would you recommend?

Customer Acquisition Opportunities

Here’s another fun area in which you can easily make a side income or stretch your existing budget: customer acquisition opportunities.

Companies will pay a premium to get new customers. You can profit from that in two ways: first, by being the new customer; or second, by referring new customers to a business. Let’s take a look at both of these options.

Method #1: Profiting from being a new customer

 This method is pretty straightforward, but effective. Think about what you already spend money on, and then look for a way to become a new customer to get that same service or product much more cheaply. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Cell service: Switch to Sprint (there’s the customer acquisition part) and receive one year of free service on their unlimited plan.

Books: Join Kindle Unlimited by July 31, 2018, and get 3 months of all-you-can-read ebooks for just 99 cents! I recommend that you immediately cancel the recurring subscription so you don’t accidentally end up continuing to pay $9.99 a month for this.

Music: Try Spotify free for 60 days or get 4 months of Amazon Music Unlimited for just 99 cents.

Banking: Becoming a new customer at a bank can make you hundreds of dollars. Chase is especially generous in that regard; you can view their current free offers here.

And so on. Companies trust that inertia will keep newly-acquired customers from jumping ship once their promotional offer expires. As we discussed previously in this post about credit cards, we can use other customers’ sub-optimal behavior as a way to subsidize our own, more optimal behavior. This is another one of those opportunities. Switch companies frequently and take advantage of promotional offers to stretch your budget dramatically.

Method #2: Profiting by referring new customers to businesses

As we’ve discussed, businesses will pay a pretty penny to acquire a new customer. If you can refer a new customer to them, many businesses will pay you a sizable customer acquisition bonus. Here are three great examples of places to do just that.

CJ Affiliate (formerly known as Commission Junction): CJ Affiliate has several thousand different companies, all willing to offer you cash for referring business to them. You can look through all of the options and apply to become an affiliate at any of the businesses that look best to you!

Amazon Affiliate: Amazon’s Affiliate program will pay you a 4-10% commission (depending on the product) to refer customers to their website. You even get paid for any purchases a customer makes once being referred to Amazon from your link.

As an aside, it’s important to note that this is a far better rate of return than Amazon’s famous Amazon Smile program, where just a 0.5% donation is made to charity. So please, don’t use Amazon Smile. Instead, bookmark a referral link of a friend or company you’d like to support (such as this referral link to keep the lights on here at The Data-Driven Life) before purchasing anything on Amazon.

EBates: We’ve been wanting to write about EBates anyway, so here’s a good place to mention it. EBates is a great way to save additional money when you purchase things online. Best of all, they’ve got both kinds of customer acquisition deals we’ve described here. First, you can sign up here to get a free $10 bonus when you spend $25 virtually anywhere online (such as at Amazon). Next, once you’re registered, you can get your own personal referral link by clicking through the “Refer and Earn $25+” link on their page. From there, you can refer an unlimited number of new customers to EBates, and if they purchase something for $25+ from an online retailer, they’ll get $10 and you’ll get $25. You can see that the math is very advantageous on both ends of this customer acquisition offer.

When it comes to customer acquisition, here’s the two-part Data-Driven Mindset to have:

  1. It pays to be a new customer, so for things you plan to purchase anyway, you should strive to be a new customer as often as possible.
  2. It pays to refer new customers to businesses, so find businesses others legitimately would want to connect with, and then help them to make that connection through your affiliate link.

In the comments, please let us know of your other favorite customer acquisition opportunities out there!

Caloric Density: The Ultimate Hunger-Free Weight Loss Plan

In a previous post, I wrote about how the secret to maintaining a healthy weight was to eat like the person you want to become, and consistently eat foods with a low caloric density. Let’s unpack that in a little more detail today.

When it comes to weight loss, dieting is not a long-term solution. Although a diet can result in a temporary weight reduction, it’s often water weight and even muscle that is lost, and the fat that is lost is often regained shortly thereafter. Diets are unsustainable. The secret to weight loss that lasts is to make a permanent lifestyle change.

The problem is that the world tells us that we should eat less and exercise more to lose weight. There’s a better way.

In his book The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss succinctly lays out the problem with using exercise as your weight loss plan:

“Did you eat half an Oreo cookie? No problem. If you’re a 220-pound male, you just need to climb 27 flights of stairs to burn it off.” -Tim Ferriss

Runners have another way of saying the same thing: “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

Which brings us to the other solution the world offers: eating “healthier.” This is so vague as to be unhelpful, which is why we see completely contradictory weight loss plans. One focuses on having the dieter eat less fat, while another suggests that more fat (but fewer carbs!) is the answer. The average person feels helpless amid this sea of contradictory advice.

In my previous post, I included a link to this calorie expenditure calculator. I recommend that you plug in your desired weight and activity level, find out how many calories that person would burn off every day, and then begin to consume no more than that many calories each day.

Unfortunately, accomplishing that is easier said than done. If you’re the kind of person who can simply count calories and stop at your target number, go for it. I personally know very few people who are like that.

For most of us, having the will power to stick to a caloric goal is an ongoing challenge. For me, personally, I can have great resolve toward a diet plan one moment, and a few hours later, as the hunger pangs kick in, that resolve is gone.

This is why the caloric density approach is so beneficial. It allows you to lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight without ever needing to feel hungry. This is where the world’s advice goes wrong: You aren’t going to lose weight from eating “healthier” food — you’re going to lose weight from eating food that has a lower caloric density.

Let’s look at two extreme options: 100 grams worth of carrots vs. 100 grams worth of peanuts. Both of these two snacks weigh the same and thus will make you feel equally “full.” The carrots have approximately 0.4 calories per gram of weight, so that 100-gram snack would have about 40 calories in it. The peanuts, on the other hand, have 6 calories per gram of weight, so that 100-gram snack has a whopping 600 calories in it.

The caloric density of the peanuts is fifteen times greater than the caloric density of the carrots! You would have to eat 1,500 grams (about 3.3 pounds!) of carrots to get the same number of calories as you would in 100 grams of peanuts.

“But Mark,” you’ll say, “isn’t this just the same as all other diets? Eat healthy stuff and you’ll lose weight?”

Not exactly. Eating foods that are low in caloric density can be different from eating foods that are generally considered healthy. (Many people, for example, would consider nuts a relatively healthy snack; as we’ve just seen, they are actually one of the worst things imaginable for people trying to lose weight.)

As you start to read nutrition labels and you begin to divide out the number of calories per gram of different foods you eat, some of what you find will surprise you.

I was happily surprised to find that shrimp, which I had always thought of as a special treat, had just 70 calories in an 85-gram serving (0.82 calories per gram). My favorite tortillas, which I had always thought were a healthy part of a veggie fajita meal I regularly made, had 140 calories in a 45-gram serving (3.11 calories per gram). Until I embarked upon the Data-Driven Life, I never imagined that these certain tortilla shells had almost four times the caloric density of shrimp.

Now that I know this, I eat more shrimp and fewer tortilla shells (and I also switched to a different brand of tortilla shells with a caloric density of just over 2 calories per gram).

So yes, focusing on caloric density can definitely give you a different result than simply trying to “eat healthy food.”

So what is a good amount of calories per gram? And what is an unacceptable caloric density? Let’s do the math.

The average person tends to eat between 3-5 pounds of food per day, depending on their height, activity level, and gender. Let’s take the example of an overweight, 35-year-old, 5’11” man who weighs 220 pounds and is used to eating about 4.5 pounds of food per day. Let’s also say that he wants to get down to a healthy weight of 170 pounds. If we go to the caloric expenditure calculator and enter his desired info (170 pounds, 5’11”, light exercise), we can see that he should be eating no more than about 2,300 calories per day.

With about 450 grams in a pound, this man will generally feel full if he eats about 2,025 grams of food each day. 2,300 calories divided among 2,025 grams of food equal about 1.14 calories per gram. If this man can eat foods that, on average, have just 1.14 calories per gram in them, he can get to his healthy weight without ever feeling hungry.

That rate of calories per gram is incredibly consistent. Take the example of a 40-year-old, 5’5″ woman who weighs 160 pounds, is used to eating 3.5 pounds of food per day, and wants to get down to a healthy weight of 130 pounds. If we enter her desired info (130 pounds, 5’5″, moderate exercise) into the same calculator, we can see that she should be eating no more than about 1,900 calories per day. Since she’s currently used to eating 1,575 grams of food per day, she needs to eat food with an average of no more than 1.20 calories per gram to lose weight without ever feeling hungry.

So there’s the small difference you do get when you add in more exercise: our hypothetical man who only wanted to do light exercise needs to keep the caloric density of his food down to 1.14 calories per gram, whereas the woman willing to do moderate exercise can go up to 1.2 calories per gram.

Try running the numbers for yourself if you wish, but I think you’ll come up with something similar: you can lose all the weight you want without ever getting hungry if the average caloric density of your food remains at or below 1.1-1.2 calories per gram.

How can we make that happen? Let’s break the foods we eat down into four categories.

Category #1: Foods with up to 1 calorie per gram (less than 30 calories per ounce):

Foods with less than one calorie per gram (or 30 calories per ounce) are outstanding. You may eat as many of these as you wish. In fact, the more of these you eat, the more likely you are to lose weight. Your goal should be to have 70%+ of your calories come from food with this level of caloric density.

Category #2: Foods with 1-2 calories per gram (30-55 calories per ounce)

Foods with between one to two calories per gram (30-55 calories per ounce) are still reasonably good. Your goal should be to have no more than 20% of your calories come from food with this level of caloric density.

Category #3: Foods with 2-3 calories per gram (55-85 calories per ounce)

Foods with between two to three calories per gram (55-85 calories per ounce) should be limited. Your goal should be to have no more than 10% of your calories come from food with this level of caloric density.

Category #4: Foods with more than 3 calories per gram (over 85 calories per ounce)

Foods with between more than 3 calories per gram (over 85 calories per ounce) should be eaten in rare and limited situations, such as at a special event. On a typical day, none of your calories should come from food with this level of caloric density.

If you follow this 70%/20%/10% plan for the food you eat, and you avoid drinking any calories, you will lose weight without ever feeling hungry.

To be proactive and take the first step, I urge you to begin calculating the calories per gram of the various foods you typically eat.

You might be surprised (like I was with the shrimp vs. the tortillas) by which foods have unknowingly been sabotaging you and keeping you from a healthy weight all this time. You might also be pleasantly surprised by certain foods which you thought were treats but which are actually not very calorically dense at all.