Mutual Funds to Match Your Lifestyle

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Are you looking to invest in a mutual fund? Are you worried that the portfolio of stocks and bonds selected by the fund managers won't accurately reflect your core beliefs? Fear not; if you dig hard enough, you can probably turn up a niche fund that meets both your need for a solid return and your personal ideology (or lack thereof). Take one of these, for example:

The Vice Fund

Perhaps the most well-known niche fund is the Vice Fund, which ignores moral qualms and shoots straight for the seedy core of the stock market. The fund focuses on four sectors: defense/weapons, gambling, tobacco, and booze. As the fund's website proudly boasts in all caps, no other fund concentrates solely on these four sectors. As fund manager Charles Norton told the Financial Times in 2006, "[N]o matter what is happening in the world economy, people will continue to drink, smoke, gamble and nations will need to defend themselves. As a result, in general these companies tend to be steady performers in good times and bad—they are mostly insulated from economic slowdowns." In short, the fund has targeted four areas of the economy where it thinks demand is fairly inelastic whether for reasons of addiction or necessity as a hedge against market downturns. It works, too; for 2006 the fund had returns of over 23%.

So are the portfolio managers gun-toting, chain-smoking drunken gambling junkies? Not quite; the Vice Fund is built on an investment strategy, not a lifestyle choice. In the same interview with the Financial Times, Norton revealed that he's a suburban family man who doesn't smoke and rarely drinks or gambles. We can still hold out hope that he owns a tank or rocket launcher, though.

Ave Maria Mutual Funds

Of course, for every demonic financial instrument like the Vice Fund, there's a counterbalancing angelic fund that traffics in virtue. One example comes from Ave Maria Mutual Funds, which touts itself as "America's fastest-growing Catholic mutual fund family." "Virtue funds" like these only hold assets in companies that meet certain moral and/or religious criteria in addition to being deemed solid investment opportunities. According to Ave Maria's website, the fund managers first pick stocks and bonds they'd like to hold, and then the potential assets go through "a proprietary moral screening process developed by our distinguished Catholic Advisory Board" that eliminates "companies connected with abortion or pornography, or that offer their employees non-marital partner "˜benefits.'" According to the fund's most recent annual report, its heaviest holdings are in Gentex Corporation, a company that makes personal protective equipment for military and law-enforcement groups, which sounds like something the Vice Fund would be equally interested in.

The Timothy Plan

Ave Maria is certainly not alone, though. The Timothy Plan family of funds has a similar focus on Christian ideology, but with decidedly more fundamentalist rhetoric. According to the Timothy Plan's site, it is America's fist pro-life, pro-family, biblically-based mutual fund. It also claims, "If you are concerned with the moral issues (abortion, pornography, anti-family entertainment, non-married lifestyles, alcohol, tobacco and gambling) that are destroying children and families you have come to the right place."

What companies can't make a Timothy Plan fund's portfolio? Good question, and luckily the plan's website has a "Hall of Shame" outlining what godless companies don't make the cut. Usual suspects like Playboy and Anheuser-Busch are frowned upon, but so are many other groups one doesn't normally think of as child-and-family destroyers, including AmEx, Borders, both Coke and Pepsi, Prudential, Starbucks, and drug companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Pfizer. (No word on whether these pharmaceutical companies are also excluded from the prescription drug coverage on the Timothy Plan's employee health benefit.)

Amana Mutual Funds

Christians aren't the only religious investors with their own funds, though. The Amana Funds make all of their investments based on sharia, or Islamic law. These principles are in some ways fairly similar to the Christian funds: no companies that make a significant amount of their income from pornography, liquor, and gambling. However, there are some other restrictions unique to the Islamic funds, including an avoidance of pork-processing companies, and since usury, or riba, is forbidden in Islamic law the funds have to avoid investing in interest-gathering financial institutions like banks. Having to avoid interest also effectively cuts the funds off from buying bonds and companies that have too much debt on their books. Moreover, since excessive portfolio turnover could be considered a form of gambling, fund managers don't swap out assets as frequently as other funds. Amana's turnover rates are just around 14%; estimates of normal mutual funds' annual turnover rates run as high as 85%.

Amana also helps its investors prepare for the Hajj, a Muslim's holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Part of the preparations for this journey include getting one's personal finances in order and clearing any debts they might owe, so Amana offers guidance to hopeful pilgrims. While services like these, as well as the underlying ideology, the funds obviously offer a unique opportunity for Muslim investors. However, the fund's strong performance (manager Nicholas Kaiser's picks regularly trounce their less-pious competition) has made it almost as attractive for non-Muslim investors looking for a place to put their money.

Socially Conscious Funds

Not all virtuous funds have religious underpinnings. Some just aim to invest in companies that meet certain social or environmental standards. Such funds generally look for companies that have good track records when it comes to human relations, environmental issues, product safety, corporate governance, and other issues.

Where does one find such companies? You can consult KLD's Domini 400 Social Index, which includes 400 companies that pass muster as socially responsible. (As you'd expect, companies heavily engaged in areas like weapons, gambling, tobacco, and nuclear power don't make the cut.) According to the index's literature, it includes 250 companies from the S&P 500, but since its creation in 1990, the Domini 400 has cumulatively outperformed the S&P 500, which means all those socially responsible companies must be doing something right.

However, the Domini 400 is an index, not a fund that you can invest in. Companies like Calvert pick up that slack, though, by offering funds that only hold companies deemed socially responsible. Calvert touts its trademarked "Double Diligence" research process that first finds attractive opportunities, then scours the companies' track records to decide if they're truly socially responsible enough to make the portfolio.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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The Best Way to Defer Your Credit Card Payments During the Coronavirus Shutdown, Explained

Credit card companies can offer financial assistance, but there can be drawbacks.
Credit card companies can offer financial assistance, but there can be drawbacks.
alexialex/iStock via Getty Images

A number of financial relief options are available to Americans who have been affected by the unprecedented health situation created by the spread of the coronavirus. Mortgage companies are offering forbearances; insurance companies have lowered premiums for cars that aren’t being driven. Credit card companies have also acknowledged that cardholders may have trouble keeping up with their bills. While many companies are eager to help with debt and interest, there are some things you should know before picking up the phone.

The good news: If you’re unable to make your minimum monthly payment in a given month, major card issuers like Chase, Capital One, and others are willing to grant a forbearance. That means you can skip the minimum due without being hit with a negative strike on your credit report for a missed payment.

A forbearance is no free ride. Interest will still accrue as normal, and the card issuer may consider the missed payment deferred, not waived. If you pay $50 monthly, for example, and are able to skip a May payment, make sure the card won't expect a $100 minimum in June to cover both months. Ask the company to define forbearance so you know what’s expected. Some may be willing to lower your minimum payment instead, which could be a better option for you.

While the skipped payment won’t impact your FICO credit score directly, be aware that it could still have consequences. Because many minimum payments mainly cover interest, your balance won’t remain the same—it will continue to grow. And because that interest is still adding up, your total amount owed is still going up relative to your available credit, which can affect your score.

If you have a sizable amount due, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) recommends looking into alternatives to forbearance, like using savings to pay down some high-interest cards, taking advantage of zero-interest balance transfer offers, or even taking out a personal loan with a lower interest rate.

If you have multiple credit card balances and the prospect of trying to get through to a human to discuss payment options seems daunting, the NFCC is offering their assistance. The agency can put you in touch with a credit counselor who can act on your behalf, obtaining forbearances or other relief from the card companies. Be advised, though, that card issuers may want to get your permission to deal with the counselors directly. The program is free and you can reach the NFCC via their website.

Be mindful that emergency relief is different from a debt management plan, which consolidates debt and can have a negative impact on your credit card accounts.

In many cases, the best thing to do is to pick up the phone and deal with the card issuer directly. Explain your situation and ask about what options they have. Some might waive payments. Others might offer to lower your interest rate. No two card issuers are alike, and it’s in your best interest to take the time to see what’s available.

[h/t lifehacker]