Out of the Mouth of Babes (It’s Not Just Cupcakes). Why Your Kids Are Better Investors Than You Are.

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“Kids say the darndest things,” Tammy Wynette.

funny child

It’s fun to teach the future generations about money.

Well, most of the time it is.

Those under thirteen tend to be an overly-excited group known to blurt out whatever is on their minds often at the surprise of adults in the room.

I always make sure to have plenty of treats for everyone at the end.

Since it was later in the day, the fourth grade class that made the journey to the office recently was especially ravenous, however I wasn’t going to change the routine-we learn at the beginning, ravage the cakes at the end.

This batch of cupcakes was especially fresh and frosty. But it didn’t matter: I wasn’t going to deviate from the plan I’ve used for years.

Out of the mouth of babes – lessons and behaviors we’ve clearly forgotten.  As adults we are relentlessly bombarded with the noise of daily living and sometimes we just don’t see things clearly based on our own biases. Children are overwhelmed with stimulus too, however they don’t have as entrenched a filter and they’re willing to see things as they are and happy to share an opinion.

There are wise words coming from the mouths of babes if you only listen.

Random Thoughts:

1). Do homework first – Many of the kids believe that before you make an important purchase, you do your homework. Now, their homework may not be as sophisticated as yours, however investors tend to forget, especially when the markets are more erratic, that emotions can overwhelm the desire to dig into facts.

We take action first out of fear or panic and deal with the repercussions later. The kids always seem surprised how many adults will buy and sell investments based exclusively on what they see or hear on television and radio. Mind you, these young students think it’s perfectly ok to purchase a breakfast cereal based on media, however acquiring an investment or “something that can go down,” (their words not mine) requires more time and effort.

During market extremes it’s timely to take your portfolio’s pulse (and yours) to determine whether you’re comfortable with your asset allocation plan-the division of assets into stocks, fixed income, cash and other investments. If your portfolio is gyrating more than the market up or down and you’re uncomfortable, homework is required to narrow down the investments causing the turmoil.

From there, it’s time to decide (based on the homework not heartburn), to take one of three roads as you evaluate financial holdings: Stay the course, buy more, or sell the investments causing distress. Again, base these decisions on your tolerance for risk and then maintain that risk profile through good and bad cycles.

2). Buy low – I know this sounds flippant or simplistic-for the mature crowd, buying low is easier said than done. They children believe they should try their best after research, to buy low into investments or at least they hope to accomplish this on a consistent basis. We teach the kids patience when they want a new video game, it’s time we teach ourselves some patience and let asset prices come to us. I know. Good luck with this one, right?

me know me funny

3). Buy what you understand – Another easy one, (in theory anyway). The kids feel strongly about buying what they know or understand. Occasionally, we make a portfolio allocation too complicated by purchasing investments we don’t fully grasp. There are a plethora of vehicles on the marketplace that are based on currency movement, bet against the markets or particular industries, and promise appetizing returns when the market is directionless.

What is the impact to the overall portfolio? If the addition appears overly complicated and you can’t explain it to a listening party, you may be better off passing on it. A complicated strategy is not necessarily a better one. Your investment plan needs to be realistic, actionable and comfortable based on your personalized goals and aspirations.

4). A sell Discipline, what’s that? – Children seem to embrace the idea of selling investments and moving on. For some of us grownups, this can be a challenge. We tend to be resistant to rebalancing or we allow one investment to swallow up a major portion of the portfolio, resulting in more risk. If you don’t have a discipline around buying and selling assets to restore your portfolio to an original target allocation, then ultimately you’re not controlling risk. Rebalancing requires a contrarian nature whereby you’re shaving down what’s done the best and adding dollars to those asset classes currently out of favor.

A concentrated position means that a stock, industry or sector makes up a disproportionate share of your total portfolio, usually 20% or more. The end results is more volatility in the portfolio as the key driver of returns, good or bad, depends on the performance of a large holding. Investors are sometimes reluctant to trim concentrated positions due to the tax implications of a large capital gain or an anchoring to a past price to minimize a loss. It’s important to maintain perspective on the risk as first priority.

5). Wait patiently for cupcakes at the end – Investing takes patience and a willingness to be disciplined. There must be goals established and when those goals are met, the sweet reward is certain to follow.

It was tough for the kids to focus on the lesson at hand with treats waiting; the children eventually learn that shortcuts to the baked goods don’t exist especially through my lessons! It’s similar with investing. We too, as adults, want our dessert first or seek to get rich quick based on shortcuts.

Ostensibly, when the market are not cooperating, back-to-basic strategies like saving more, decreasing debt or extending the time needed to reach a financial goal are usually the best.

What will you learn from the children today?

Keep an open mind and you may be surprised.

kid eating cupcake

 

Taking Stock In Your Kids – 4 Initial Steps To Get Children Excited About Investing.

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As featured in http://www.nerdwallet.com.

Begin talking with the kids about investing sooner rather than later.

Interestingly, many parents find it awkward to discuss stock investing, especially with their young children. Some adults don’t feel confident in their abilities to do research. What I’ve discovered is the discussion with young children actually helps less confident parents become better stock investors.

The conversation raises the bar for teacher-parents and the children willing to learn.

It’s a win-win.

winning

There are several milestones to reach. The adventure begins with these simple steps to consider when it comes to engaging the children.

Random Thoughts:

1). Build excitement – Creating passion around the investing process is important. Begin with a dialogue around the children’s brand loyalties (and they start at an early age). When I was young, I drove my parents crazy: I always “needed” the latest Mattel’s Hot Wheels car or Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figure. I would only eat Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, not the store brand.

GI Joe Vintage

So, what products are your kids passionate about?

Create short-term activities to build interest. Come up with a deadline for completion. For example, have the children begin and maintain journals of the products and services they like or use. Have them track the prices of those items over the internet or when you head to the stores.  Remind the kids how the family is excited to hear about what they’re thinking and plan a family gathering around the topic.

One family created a big event around the journals. They had the children select their own notebooks and personalize them with money-related and other types of stickers. The kids paid for the supplies out of their allowances which created a stronger connection to the project.

2). Organize a family discussion – Once the children share their information at a family gathering, expand the discussion to include the products and services the family purchases or uses on a consistent basis, say at least twice a week. From soap to shoes, batteries to bandages – leave everything open for investigation. Nothing is off-limits. Now, you’re building a research list!

3). Watch your words – I’ll never forget when my uncle who was a specialist on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, explained how I had the ability to own part of a large company. I was hooked. Wait: A poor kid from Brooklyn can own a piece of McDonald’s?

How does that happen?

kid surprise

The language used around stock investing is important to help the kids gain healthy perspective and a sense of pride in their selections and the investment experience, overall. The phrase “buying a stock,” is confusing when compared to “ownership in a company,” which in essence is what you’re trying to help the children embrace.

The concept of “stock” is nebulous for the younger ones to comprehend so it’s best to keep the language simple. Using words to connect ownership to investing creates a long-term investor mindset. You don’t want the children to focus solely on stock price movement; it’s best for them to strive to build discipline by focusing on the long-term value of a business – and all because you provided the perspective.

4). Begin with the concept of sales – It’s a good idea to introduce one simple concept before you begin specific stock-research homework. I’ve found kids relate well to the concept of sales. Whether you’re talking lemonade, girl-scout cookies, or school-related fund drives, children have an uncanny ability to understand that sales are positive and can lead to personal reward. It’s the same for a business. Generally, the more goods or services sold, the more favorable it is to the stock price over time.

kent soda

You don’t need to work through these initial four steps alone. Partner with a financial advisor to facilitate the discussion or utilize books and other resources to jumpstart the process.

I recommend the book “Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids,” by Gail Karlitz and Debbie Honig.  Easy to understand and designed for children ages 8-12.

Want to engage the kids about several money concepts? There are 7 great money apps for kids reviewed by NerdWallet including my personal favorites – Virtual Piggy and Bee Farming.

You don’t need to wait (like I did) until you receive verbal cues from the kids to begin the engagement about investing.

You may never get them.

Even as early as age nine, you can begin a dialogue.

In the next report, I’ll take the investing discussion to the next plateau.

Until then, begin the conversations, start the journals, ignite the passions.

And the kids will never forget.

kids and stocks

 

 

 

Baby Boomers and Their Spending: Four Things Retirees are Thinking Now.

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Baby Boomers are known for their penchant for spending. They were not hesitant to take on debt to enhance their lifestyles as they built successful careers and accumulated assets.

The post-financial crisis Baby Boomer retiree is constantly rethinking how to direct discretionary dollars or their “fun” money.

I recognize and document the changes I observe: There’s a deliberate thought process behind discretionary spending. The mindset is a clear path to personal enrichment and a generous nature when it comes to providing knowledge and positive experiences to those they love.

Here are a few of the more interesting random observations:

“We crave memories.”

dog hump

A majority of Baby Boomers are directing discretionary dollars toward experiences, especially with close friends and former business associates.  They would rather focus on creating memories. The desire to make large-scale expensive purchases is on a very noticeable decrease.

There’s a passion for atypical trips – wine tours in exotic locations, extended-stay vacation spots, off the beaten-path locales where time is made for conversation. Physical and mental challenges are important, too. Hiking, skiing, scuba diving, mountain climbing are high up on the bucket list. Learning new skills like painting or ethnic cooking have replaced a desire to own goods. If anything, Baby Boomers are releasing the shackles of material goods and downsizing.

And they’re on to something:  Research by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of the book “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” outline how spending money on experiences can stretch “happiness bucks.” Memories outlive the short-term excitement of a purchase like new automobile.

An emerging trend has been the growing demand for off-site wine storage venues. Here, Boomers with a passion for wine can house their inventory in a climate-controlled environment and have access to comfortable lounges to share their collections with friends and others who share their passion. Those who participate in this activity advise me it’s more about socializing and the overall experience than the wine.

“We seek self-awareness.”

disturbing

Baby Boomers are passionate about learning more about themselves and willing to spend money to do it. Much of their mental resources and daily hours were spent building long, stressful careers and raising families. Several have expressed to me how much they regret not spending more time going further down a spiritual path. An increasing share of the discretionary budget is being directed toward classes, books and travel that result in methods of heightened self-awareness and inner wellness.

Boomers have experienced hardship within their households; they know of immediate family members and close friends who have gone through difficult financial episodes. Striving for inner peace and ostensibly communicating what they’ve learned with others is of greater important than showing off new, expensive toys.

“We want to share with family.”

horsey

The Boomer desire to leave a big inheritance is not a priority. The trend is to share the wealth in retirement, especially through activities that include family. The addition of travel with children and grandchildren is a popular goal and from a financial planning perspective, has morphed from a want or wish to a strong need.

They’re called “multigenerational vacations.” Whether cruises, theme parks, or scenic road trips, a strong desire exists for Baby Boomers to be travel partners with loved ones.  And picking up the tab for the group is not a concern. They possess a desire to etch good memories in the minds of their families and to actively participate in the fun. They seek to leave a strong presence after death. A living legacy.

Boomers are readily sharing newfound hobbies with family. For those on a more limited budget in retirement, pre-scheduled gatherings to show off cooking skills are popular. Any activity that creates an opportunity to bond with family (and they don’t need to be over-the-top expensive) is approached with the same energy retired Boomers applied to building careers and businesses.

“We are collectors of unique items.”

GI Joe funny

Unique collectables are popular with Boomers. Scouting resale shops and antique stores have become a formidable leisure activity in retirement. The most popular collections are tied to vintage pop culture products owned or remembered as children.

Baby Boomers are diligent when they purchase collectables. They’re patient and will wait until the “perfect” item crosses their path. Since they disdain clutter, homework is important, and they’re extremely selective. Budgeting for these purchases is important, too.

Toys, magazines, comics and vintage books from the 1950s through the 1970s are the most prominent collectables.

Roughly 25% of discretionary budgets are allocated to unique items -up 30% from five years ago.

The spending behaviors of Baby Boomers in retirement are fascinating to observe and document.  They’ve changed over the last five years.

As a Boomer retiree said to me recently: “I’m focused on my return on life.

If I can maximize that all the rest will fall into place.”

falling flat

 

When Structural Integrity Is Breached: 5 Ways To Rebuild – Stronger Than Ever.

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broken body

You found out too late. Your compass was off. Like way off.

compass heart

The foundation of your life, of what you believed was important to the core, was really a facade misconceived as an altar made of steel.

And when the massive cracks were exposed.

A harsh reality emerged.

A thousand serpents uncoiled and slithered in several different directions.

On a search-and-destroy mission.

As those you loved and entities that held your loyalties.

Turned.

Attacked.

And.

Sadly, it was too late.

To protect the structure.

The cancerous nature once hidden was then revealed.

What you built, what you thought you built, wasn’t what you thought it was at all.

Broken glass held together with false mortar of ego was all it was.

shattered glass

You had no choice but to allow your illusions to shatter.

Feel the heat of the cuts.

Embrace the blood.

Allow starving snakes to feed.

2014-04-03 05.46.55

So I ask.

How will your structural integrity be invaded?

Maybe you never gave it much thought. Now you understand. Invasions happen. There will be times in your life that attacks will occur.

Disease, aging, flaccid privates, flab, hair growth in all the wrong places.

Your mind will find a way to slice you, too.

The invaders are never welcomed. True – some are expected.

But then there are the surprises.

The atom bombs.

The blind-siders.

And the heat of the invasion leads to scorched earth.

The violation creates.

An impact so earth shaking.

A blowout so expansive that.

Once it occurs you can’t go back. The structure as it was, can no longer be trusted.

And among the rubble.

You rebuild.

And it takes so much of yourself.

You’re weaker for the rest of your life.

Just like that.

Boom.

nuclear explosion

On the other side of the devastation.

You remember what was lost in the blast.

And in your dreams, you long for some of what you had.

Before the wounds.

There was.

Stamina. Determination.

Sanity.

Nothing is as it was.

Right down to the senses.

The blue on your tongue tastes yellow.

Out from the rubble of a structural breach.

The lens from which you view the world, yourself, are strained; it’s hazy around the edges. Although your vision, determination, direction was never clearer.

You trudge forward. Focus on re-calibration.

Galvanize. Work with what you got.

Execute with a new instruction manual.

Fuck.

What choice you got?

In the span of a lifetime, I pray your structure is never violated. If so, I hope you’re close to clearing the debris and eager to start over.

For the breached ones, the invaded ones, the violated ones, here are a few.

Random Thoughts:

1). Stack as many odds in your favor as possible. Take a realistic, objective inventory of what you got left to fight with. You’ll eventually learn your own ways to work around the break in structural integrity. Guard yourself at all times: Say no more often, immediately release those who drain energy, keep vigilant or aware of what can erode the structural integrity that remains. Do whatever is necessary to preserve mental and physical attack as another battle could end in mortal disaster for you.

2). Recognize the warning signs of attack. Get your head connected to your gut and take quick action. I knew deep down, attacks were possible, but I fooled myself into believing all would be OK. When it comes to war on structural integrity, your instinct can feel it coming. It’s an internal awareness mechanism you should not ignore (like I did).

3). Make a list of the things you must accomplish daily to rebuild. I deep breathe 5 minutes every morning; I apply positive self-talk to fight fear and worry. I work out to the point of vomiting. There’s a continuous, obsessive focus on healing and protecting the wounded area. The steps will be different for you. Just start something. Create healthy daily habits. Each action will replenish, protect and compensate for the damage. Most important, you will prevent the weakness from spreading.

4). Never forget how you left yourself open to blind siders. You failed to stay alert. Most likely 20% of your life force escaped through the cracks. Gone forever. You cannot afford another hit. It’s all about preservation, now. People, entities will seek to harm you to protect themselves. It’s survival of the fittest gone mainstream. Don’t be blind. Remove selfish ego-based people and thinking from your life. Create a circle of protection which contains those individuals, teachers, activities, foods, conversations that nurture you. All the rest need to be cut out immediately.

 5). What can breach the integrity of your financial structure? You have minor children and no estate plan, no legal will. You depend on credit cards for emergency expenditures, you don’t carry adequate life insurance or disability coverage, you co-sign for loans. It’s a matter of time before your money will be attacked.

Believe me.

I’m not back to where I should be.

I suffer from this recurring dream; I’m standing deep in a yellow pea-soup colored fog. The sound of a roaring train fills my ears, raises my blood pressure and then rolls over me.

I wake up shaking. In a cold sweat.

It’s the tear.

The rip.

Reminding me.

Warning me.

That the next point of impact.

Will topple who I am now.

Threaten to take away those  I love.

So I stand.

Ready to fight.

In the meantime, I will.

Replenish.

Stay aware.

Remember.

And wait for the fog to burn away.

For the last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hump Day No-Spend Day Challenge – 5 Steps to Financial Success.

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To be the best with managing your finances; to master what goes on in your head, focus on the present moment.

A money action you take right now is part of a bigger picture.

Success with money comes with the little steps you take daily.

Mid-week is a perfect time to focus.

Yea I know you hate the hump day camel, right?

hump day HA! Fooled ya!

Now that I have your undivided attention, here’s what to do.

Well, before that, there’s this:

Wednesday was powerful for advertising when I was a kid. We were brainwashed by television in New York that Wednesday was “PRINCE SPAGHETTI DAY.”

I still remember the commercials. I drove my mother insane. I would only eat PRINCE SPAGHETTI on Wednesday. It got so bad she fired off a complaint letter to the Prince Pasta Company.

No Pastina, no rigatoni. Spaghetti. Prince Spaghetti. For years.

prince spaghetti day

So let me brainwash you for a month. That’s all.

One month.

Random Thoughts:

Ask yourself these questions then answer honestly. No cheating!

How much will you spend today? What is the focus of your spending? Create the visuals. Make mental notes. Take an inventory. Then ask.

Are the expenditures necessary? Now that you had a chance to think about how your hard-earned money will be spent, step back and consider – which are needs, which are wants.

Can you now wait until the middle of next week? If the purchase is a want, see if you can do without it for a week. A week from today. That’s all I ask!

OK, so what if it’s a need? Still wait if you can. See if you can lower the cost of the purchase. Use the time to do some homework. Shop around.

Can you make every Wednesday a no-spend day? Complete this exercise for two weeks a month.  At the end of the month, discover how much more money you have remaining in your checking account.

See? You have trained your mind to delay gratification!

Greater money discipline comes from a focus on the present moment.

And today.

For me anyway.

Well, you know.

messy spaghetti

 

 

Inflamed: The Red Stain Goes Deeper. 4 Steps To Resurface.

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“You gotta stay who you are, not who you were.

Places like this..

You have to put it away.”

What if you can’t?

“You have to.

Or it kills you.”

broken heart Here.

Rip open what’s been sealed tight and the past will bubble up on airy ringlets of regret. Pain grabs and fuses with it on the journey higher – they rise as one, gather momentum, and then explode into a fog of thick fear that absorbs you.

You’ll feel a boulder hit in the gut when this creature surfaces.

Everything you love or thought you loved will crumble. Ashes.

You don’t know it yet but you’re fighting a force you can’t beat.

But you’ll fight all the same.

And the stain begins to take hold.

blood spray

You hate every minute of its movement.

You feel the crawl. It’s cold.

Your initial response is to resist.

Resistance is an inflammation that blisters from a white soul red.

Resistance is a malignancy; it’s your ego constructing walls to protect itself and destroy you in the process.

And yet you’re still fighting.

You’ll need to face this thing. You know.

Your instinct says rage and battle when you really should relent.

To victory.

Standing breathless in the cold. Or a journey into darkness.

To another side, another life, another dimension. Wherever that is.

A mission to cut out what’s malignant about yourself.

Extracting a part of you that’s been around for decades.

And you’re reeling.

Search desperately for perspective.

A faint light of faith erupts.

But it burns out too quick.

And the stain continues to spread, thicken. Go deeper.

How do you restore your faith when the stain blocks out every source of light?

It’s black pitch from the start. Shaky and sticky underneath. Each step is a blast furnace full force inside your chest.

Lead. Coals.

hot coals

The urge to go back is strong. Where is back? Perspective gone. You’re frozen but moving. Stiff. Halfway. Into the dark. Partially across.

Stumbling.

The red stain is all over you now. It’s forming tentacles. Wrapping you in a crimson vise.

Sweltering.

Look up at the sky.

Catch a breath.

Peace.

For a second. You rise above the stain.

Hope calls out.

Faint. A vibrato that takes over.

It wants you closer. To nurture you.

Pull you in.

Everything feels right for a second.

Then it’s gone.

The light fades.

Did you imagine it?

But you do remember.

What it said.

The voice.

Three words:

Do not fight.

It’ll be better.

But.

You’re not ready.

You don’t believe.

You refuse.

You mock.

This voice.

You don’t recognize the tone.

It’s gentle. Soothing.

Too loving. 

Too real.

It speaks the truth. That you know.

On a blue breeze.

Air around you is clean.

You shake it off.

Fall back.

To the hot red of the past.

When you were told.

You’re not supposed to feel good.

People. Those you trusted – they told you you were not supposed to feel good.

Most of who you love. Gone. You watched them die. You helped a few along.

Questions remain unanswered.

The sharp edge is ready.

Still three

And before you rise to battle once more.

There’s the voice again.

It’s almost musical.

It pleads: Release the past.

Let it burn.

But you can’t.

Still.

Because it’s comfortable to stay where the past lives.

You choose to fight once more.

With alcohol and anger as your weapons.

The damage is self-inflicted.

You raise the dagger of blame.

Blame for everything that went wrong because it feels better.

There’s a tug on you. At you. A thousand magnets. Drawing you away and in.

You reach out wildly to grasp on to what meant everything.

And now means… 

“Why you keeping all that stuff?”

Beth Greene.

burn money

Nothing.

The stain is thickest.

Dead weight.

The past is dead weight.

One more attempt to pull out of internal quicksand.

Last gasp.

A final attempt to return to.

Who you believe you are.

Who you were.

And this time it’s too much.

The puncture is fatal.

It pierces your heart.

Red flames escape; lick at your soul.

red burn lady

You understand. Finally.

No longer will you be able to thin the thickness of the stain.

With resistance.

You shut others out.

The stain shows itself.

And you let it swallow you. Finally.

Surrender.

Then death.

A mourning.

You can no longer return.

The prison that protected you is ablaze.

Gone.

daryl deeper

Accepting the past is a wound you must not run from. You must fall to its blade. Own it. It needs to puncture the third dimension of you. A last layer.

To create and re-direct the light.

To build again.

You must extinguish.

The past that governed your present.

But it will need to drive up to your gates first.

And puncture you and those you love.

And the red-black will bleed out.

Good people in its wake.

Part of you is gone, too.

Still four

Your wounds are exposed.

Your mind is ready.

Open now.

The silence and beauty of surrender dissipates the fog.

The voice is clearer. Louder. Out from the shadows.

You can make it.

You go for it.

It’s strong now.

So are you.

You’re about ready to.

Resurface.

Five ways.

Random Thoughts:

1). Regret is living death. The word “maybe” will destroy you. It’s a disharmonious life footfall. I’ve learned even more so lately, that nothing is by chance. Everything happens with purpose. Good or bad. Be open to the signs of the universe. With ego out of the picture and the red stain fading out, you will believe again and the word “maybe” will never spill from your mouth. It’s a foul word. Maybe leaves a door open for the mental zombie hoard to eat your brain. Maybe is a downhill path for the red stain to roll.

“If you think about it, how much time do we spend in our heads wishing things were different, beating ourselves up, beating others up, crafting a different past, wishing for a different future? All of this is resistance. All of that is pain.”

Kamal Ravikant.

Still five

“Maybe because I gave up.” Daryl Dixon.

Some of the best words (and I’m the fortunate receiver of great words) from friend and mentor James Altucher resonate here.

Remove the dead weight. Daily, I write down one negative thought, one bad habit from the past, and toss it.

“I find that if I dig deep and throw one thing a day (on my shelf, in my head, an ugly memory, in my heart a small anxiety in my stomach a frown, a doubt, an insecurity a person who drains my energy) fewer things upset me, fewer people bother me; I have fewer regrets about things long dead and buried, fewer anxieties about a future that may or may not exist.”

James Altucher

2). The reddest stain of finance. Is the worst of damage inflicted. A foreclosure. Lost savings on an investment that went sour, got suckered in by a “Nigerian prince” because greed got the best of you, the hot babe needed new dresses. Whatever. I have a section of a notebook I document all my bone-headed financial decisions and purchases (yes financial advisors do stupid things with money). Some of them include – flowers, beanie babies, more shirts and ties than I’ll ever wear in a lifetime, so many watches. All the investments I ever lost on, all the people I invested in who turned out to be a bust. Lessons I never forget. They stay with  me. Teach. The red stain abhors knowledge and acceptance. If you don’t accept you messed up, you’ll continue the mistakes.

3). It’s acceptable to give up. Throw in the towel. Say fuck it. Burn it. Hell, I’m all for burning things. I’m Italian. I do dramatic crap all the time; it’s in my DNA. Buy me a gift and I don’t see you anymore I’m sending the shit back or carting it to a charitable organization. Somewhere in Houston there’s a bunch of homeless souls who are walking around in nice t-shirts and jackets emblazoned with the logo of my former employer. It’s beneficial branding for them. Not really. Good.

4). Be the last man (or woman) standing. How? It’s easy. The best solutions come down to a single, present action.

A personal stand that cuts through the smoke.

And helps you rise above who you were.

Your middle finger.

Yep.

That’ll work.

That’ll work just fine.

Don’t go back inside.

Open your window. Your mind.

There’s the place.

Your heart is lighter now.

Lift.

The weight is off.

I opened the back door.

Finger is up.

I thought I heard the squirrels.

Cheering me on.

The red stain is a spot.

Contained.

Outside of me.

I gave it the finger, too.

Your turn.

Still two

Five Unorthodox Uses For Your Tax Refund That Will Change Your Life.

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It’s that time when the financial “gurus” begin to tell you what to do with your tax refund.

what to do

According to the IRS, the average refund this year is $3,034 – up 3% over the same period last year.

So, you read/hear the same advice every year. Granted, it’s valid. But it’s old.

Pay down credit card debt,  fund a Roth IRA, begin or bolster an emergency reserve.

I guarantee what you’re hearing will pay off if you listen and follow through.

Better than how I know some people are going to blow a tax refund.

I asked.

“Going to a strip club.” Good one.

“Paying for a divorce.” OK!

“Spending it on my boyfriend.” Really?

“Going to IKEA.” Hell no.

Dumb.

So let’s try new ideas.

Here are five unorthodox ways to direct your tax refund dollars to increase your ROL.

Return On Life.

return on life

1). Treat the grandparents and parents to dinners.  The knowledge you’ll gain from asking questions to those with money experiences (good and bad) will be invaluable.  Listen. Learn. Write down the responses. Write down everything. Gaining perspective from those who have been handling investments, credit, debt, financial failures is worth more than any Roth contribution.

2). Purchase experiences, not stuff. From the authors of the book “Happy Money: The Science Of Smarter Spending” your money goes a long way to provide happiness when it’s directed toward experiences that create memories, not stuff like new smart phones. Eventually your satisfaction with goods diminishes; memories last a lifetime.

3). Take on education. Learn a skill that will increase your “ROHC,” or return on human capital: The return on YOU as a future earnings machine.  Many people are underemployed and reluctant to “switch gears” to learn new skills or spend the time on what’s required to succeed in our post-financial crisis economy.  Perhaps a vocational school is worth your time. There’s a dearth of skilled laborers today. Check out http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/ for accredited schools in your area.

4). Do something for your soul.  Money you share with others can foster inner satisfaction. Purchasing items for a local animal shelter, contributing to a favorite charity, helping someone in need all can add to your happiness bucks.

5). Do something for your heart. With the healthcare industry going through tremendous change, one fact is clear: Getting and staying healthy is going to be a priority. First, your insurance carrier will demand better “numbers” from you to provide premium discounts. For example, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight should meet or exceed normal ranges for your age. Second, joining a gym and spending on healthy meal choices can mean fewer visits to the doctor (your doctor no longer has time for you, anyway).

Consider ROL for your refund; you can return to the advice you already know and will hear again next year, anytime.

It’s always out there.

The old guidance is good guidance.

Now.

Try something different.

Go!!

To Be The Best Feel The Worst: 6 Ways To Ride The Red Stain To Happiness.

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I realized early on how perfect my parents desperately wanted me to be.

perfect boys

I’ll go ahead and say the entire planet from our modest Brooklyn apartment appeared more perfect than anything going on in my universe.

However, that didn’t matter. I was the “punching bag” for everything that went wrong. I took it upon myself to be the designated martyr for a bad marriage.

Isn’t that what perfect boys do?

I  fought for perfection inside my own head for years. I tried to control outcomes and then my actions which is ass backwards. Stupid. I was controlling the end of the road but not the construction and direction of the path (thank you for the awakening, Kamal Ravikant).

Flashback 1973. Nana’s Sunday dinner: Outnumbered by 30 hairy fingers grasping for semolina Italian bread, feeling overwhelmed before the big guns, the heaping platters of her finest creations were carried out from the kitchen – I was instructed (threatened) to never allow tomato sauce to meet my crisp button-down white shirt.

Huge challenge.

Ten minutes into the meal uncle Tommy screamed at dad, dad stood up, gave the finger and uncle Tommy would begin hurling Nana’s cannonball meatballs soaked in sauce like we were in the middle of an indoor snowmeat fight.

There I was.

In the red line of fire.

red stain

Dead husky boy. Sitting target. Praying. Watching the skies. Catching mom’s eyes staring at me with that menacing “remember what I told you about sauce on your shirt” look.

Awaiting the inevitable saucy fate to treat my shiny buttons a landing strip.

And I was.

Praying, praying, praying…

For a meatball to fall neatly on my plate.

Praying hard because the odds were not in my favor.

When the inevitable happened.

Red liquid was splattered across the front. Hot in my eyes. All I could think of was that scene in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone gets it at a toll booth. My dad dragged me to see the iconic flick at the Marlboro theater in Brooklyn.

I was shell shocked then.

And I was almost every Sunday.

Sonny Corleone.

Set up.

At the toll booth (dining room table).

sonny corleone

I believe if Sonny Corleone was smart, his guts and perseverance would have made him as popular as Charlie Gasparino, but what do I know?

“What did I say about getting sauce ON THAT SHIRT?”

Not easy to stay tight white when it’s raining marinara.

Yep, my fault. Again.

Always my fault.

You win.

I have no excuse.

Again, a pudgy Sonny Corleone hanging limp like a soaked rag doll from the driver’s side.

I had no chance.

And I lived my life as such.

For a long time.

Always avoiding the splatter that comes with trying new things.

Not allowed to mess up.

Or be in the vicinity of a mess up.

Afraid to fail.

Always stupid until proven different.

I had no chance.

And it almost killed me.

Because life lived with zest is the pulsating exhilaration of a red stain.

If it wasn’t for the fear of god being placed in me about the sauce perhaps I would have ripped that stained white shirt off and sucked on the dripping Sicilian culinary art Nana Rose created with the reckless abandon of a 9 year old.

I would have loved it. Instead I was forced to act like a 40 year-old in a 9 year-old’s body.

Maybe I would have lived for the stain, not for the avoidance of it.

My brain was dying after decades of reliving those dinners.

And.

The rules. So many rules.

  1. Don’t sit on the couch, you’ll mess the pillows (everything was coated in plastic so what was the big deal).
  2. Never go out without a belt, your pants will fall down (no they won’t).
  3. You must wear socks AT ALL TIMES (to this day I’m hairless where the crew socks meet skin).
  4. All your shirts MUST BE WHITE AND THEY CAN’T GET DIRTY especially during Sunday dinner when your crazy relatives are THROWING FOOD AT EACH OTHER ABOVE YOUR HEAD.
  5. Don’t leave the Barbie doll alone and naked inside the GI Joe Headquarters.

So many rules my head would swim.

They owned me. I was a rules bitch. Rules created by others.

Not me.

I carried them through adulthood; it limited my life to a tiny square mental box.

When it came to taking risks.

Because it was always about the stains.

Stains were bad.

And the parents were clear: You cannot have stains on your white life.

And a stainless life is lifeless.

white shirt

I began to read more.

I started talking to thought leaders like James Altucher.

People in my field told me I was pretty good at what I did.

I started asking questions from those who knew more than me (I still do).

I freely shared my knowledge (regardless of what dad thought or my last employer believed – I’m not cattle, I have a brain).

My teachers have been there. No rules, broke rules. Created new rules.

I realized the rules enforced upon me in corporate America (the worst), married America, financial industry America needed REVISION.

I was out of my own skin with revelation. My mind was gone.

Three years lost in discovery.

I blanked out and was enlightened at the same time.

“Did you know you have a garlic press?” asked my friend Amy.

“I do?”

“Did you know you have spoons?”

“I do?”

“Do you see you have about a thousand ties?”

“I do?”

There was wear and tear to break the chains of the rules.

Real bloodshed. An organ and half. Gone.

A lawsuit.

Libel.

Slander.

My rewards for embracing the stain. Questioning the cooks in the kitchen who were adding poison to the food (that’s poetic license people, nobody got poisoned. Well, perhaps their money did) is not good for one’s health if you continue to swallow it.

To bust apart the rules society established for me (along with Catholic school nuns and deceased parents) I needed to feel and go through the worst.

To live.

Break through.

I learned to love the worst. I felt alive.

I was able to taste food again (I thought my taste buds were gone everything felt dead like cold mashed potatoes).

I began to explore new things.

I spoke up.

I began to write and share my mistakes.

I became aware and appreciative of the present moment.

I slayed my ego (needed a big knife).

I discovered I owned a garlic press and about 60 shirts with sales tags still attached to the sleeves.

garlic press

To be the best.

To create your rules.

You’ll need to go through some shit.

Wrestle with ghosts of the past until they let you go.

Because people are going to mock your rules.

You will knock them, too.

Because it’s not normal.

Or is it?

And who defines normal?

Society?

To do what society says you must?

That’s normal?

Fuck them.

Buy a house.

Go to college.

Don’t splash tomato sauce on your white shirt.

eats spaghetti

Whatever.

On occasion the paved road is a horrible way to travel. Once in awhile you’ll need to hit a pothole, go over an embankment.

To awaken.

Random Thoughts:

1). Be Clean. But understand it’s ok to get dirty when you need to. I’ve enjoyed tussling with a corporate bully, getting dragged through the worst muck of human behavior and beating myself with fear and anger.

I now enjoy the smell. There’s something gritty in the process of choosing and finding yourself. The bruises take on greater significance. I will spend the rest of my life helping others understand what this former employer truly is behind its “wholesome” facade.

“You learn to warrior up,” I imagine my friend Andrea saying that. I’m not afraid of the stains anymore. I greet them, earnestly.

2). Forget White. Be proud of your stains. You can’t avoid them. If you seek to reach a new level of thought, or feeling, or emotion the white shirt cannot remain white. White is colorless. Sure – You’ll fall, get beat, lose a piece of yourself. Marks will fade, scars will heal but they will always be a part of who you were before you were better. Good reminders. Rip open a scab on occasion. Feel the pain.Stain your life a bit. It’s fine.

3). Enjoy Meatballs.  I’m not ashamed. I got smacked for eating errant meatballs that made it to Nana’s linoleum floor. Never let anything get in the way of pursuing your meatballs no matter how messy it seems or how bad you look to others. Keep your eye (mouth) on the prize. I learned who accepted me for who I was. Nana did. Who are the people in your life who accept you for who you are, faults and all? Love them. Tell them you’re not perfect. They’re not either. There’s beauty in the rough edges of the human condition.

4). Think Simple. Managing your finances comes down to rules you follow, consistently – Rules based on behavior and attitude towards saving and debt. Even if you suck at investing (investing is icing on the cake, anyway) there are several core habits you’ll want under your belt first to accumulate the capital to invest when you feel comfortable to do so. If your consistent behavior is to funnel most of your take-home pay to reduce debt or make minimum payments on credit card balances; or if you’re an impulsive consumer without a budget, you’re never going to have the cash to invest and increase wealth. No meatballs for you until you face and correct your financial pitfalls.  Improvement begins today.

As my friend Linda says “you don’t have to humor me. I’m a godless pagan with a short temper and too much credit card debt.”

Be honest with yourself. Create your own rules that will lead to financial success. Seek an objective financial partner to hold you accountable. It’s ok to employ humor to make it through. Keep it real. So you fucked up. You needed those $300 shoes. It’s ok.

5). Don’t Overthink. As a kid I anticipated the most horrible things going on during those Sunday dinners. Like when uncle Vinnie cursed dad in broken English or Italian slang and the food would fly. Our brains, out of fear, will lead us to believe the worst is going to occur. Most of the time, your brain is wrong and the worst doesn’t happen. I can recall many dinners at Nana’s where everyone was civil. Imagine! And we enjoyed cannolis for dessert.

6). Forgiveness is for suckers. I don’t seek it; I don’t provide it. I’ve learned to appreciate the weakness in the human structure and absorb the lessons. Red stains that never fade. Every lesson adds dimension to the thought process.

To forgive is to ignore the gifts, bypass the wisdom of others. Refusing to forgive sharpens the blade. I’m happier to not forgive my parents for trying to make me “perfect.” It’s helped me appreciate my imperfections and form them into diamonds. Forgiveness saps energy and taps your resources that are designed to help you learn, teach, survive.

You’ll feel better holding on.

To the stains of others.

Converting them to energy.

“There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet. No matter where you live. There will always be a few things, maybe several things, that you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive.”

The Mountain Goats – Up The Wolves.

There’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home.

Imperfection is a wolf.

You own it.

Train it to fight.

Tear. Create edges.

Persevere.

Embrace the red stains.

Taste them.

And live again.

wolf

More to come on the red stain with insights from master wolf James Altucher and The Walking Dead’s Beth Greene and Daryl Dixon. 

The Premarital Lovin’ Laws – Consider the Money Strings Before the Rings.

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There are many challenges to consider when it comes to taking a big step like marriage; conflicting money philosophies can wreak havoc on a relationship.

bad marriage

You don’t need be money twins about financial matters, just hold similar core values. If the relationship with money varies dramatically from your beau’s, you can rest assured conflict will eventually tarnish the bliss.

You may scoff at these overtures; some may appear radical. However, before the rings, discuss the strings. Money strings are the beginning of good or bad threads you’re going to bring to a marriage tapestry.

Here are a few money smart steps to consider:

1). In Lieu of a Wedding Throw a Debt-Relief Gathering – How romantic to slay one of the financial beasts of a successful long-term commitment. Forgo a wedding reception – throw a party for a quarter of the expense. On average U.S. couples spend more than $25,000 on a wedding. If you’re saddled with revolving debt like auto loans and credit cards, then it may be best to use gifts to pay them off or pay down debt dramatically. Throw a nifty party and focus monetary gifts on debt.

Create a written promise to each other that out-of-control debt monsters shall never arise from the dead.

debt monster

2). Create a Personalized Series of Make-or-Break Rules – If you’re serious, well then either the matrimony activities continue, are postponed or cease entirely based on jointly-held money rules.

Be specific when you create them. Here are examples:

If our individual credit scores are less than 700 (based on Fair Isaacs) then marriage needs to be postponed until scores are at least at or above the national average of 723. Marginal credit scores can mean more interest paid on loans including mortgage alternatives. Examine and follow steps to increase your scores on www.myfico.com and re-visit this commitment in six months.

I shall provide proof of my good money habits before the marriage commitment is made. Get ready for money vulnerability – break out your budget history, open the Quicken, outwardly show that you’re taking health care insurance and disability coverage at work. Divulge your liabilities (of the financial kind). Too much debt, lack of insurance and absence of discipline may encourage you to reconsider a marriage at this time.

If individual monthly debts are greater than 25% of our gross monthly incomes, then marriage needs to be postponed until debts fall below set thresholds. I know. I’m taking all the heart out of this, and that’s exactly the point.

As a famous Godfather once lamented: “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.”

godfather

3). Write out your Personal Money Philosophy and Share it with your Future Partner – If you’ve never formally considered a money philosophy it’s an opportune time to think it through. And you do have one; your money DNA has been with you since youth. It was formed by your parents, friends, and other outside influences. Share the details of this exercise with your partner, yet work on this project alone.

The end result is a couple of sentences that spell out sincere reflection about your ongoing relationship with money.

Here are a few shared with me:

I’ve been afraid of debt for a long time and feel compelled to pay off debts quickly. My parents taught me to not dig a hole I can’t climb out of and I’ve always been that way.”

“I always make sure to have money in an emergency fund.?

“I try to save at least 5% of my salary in my 401K.”

These statements don’t need to be pretty, they need to be real and reflect values about finances.

Consider fun yet money awareness exercises with your financial partners like the card “game” available at www.moneyhabitudes.com. What an eye-opener when it comes to disclosing and understanding couples’ money personalities.

4). Consider Money Vows at the Wedding – Really want to shake things up? How about a money promise as a tie that binds? I’m not kidding! Here are examples from couples who incorporated money messages in their vows:

“I promise to never make a big purchase without you.”

“I promise to never hide a financial mistake from you.”

“I hope for mutual respect and open communication if money issues arise in our marriage.”

death wise

Well, you get the point.

It all seems romantic to me, but then I’m a money guy.

What rules and tips can you create today around  a successful money and marriage partnership?

In The Trenches: 5 Ways to Fight Bullies and Survive.

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In the blast furnace of confrontation.

You roil the beast and bleed out in the muck of a life that was simpler once but you can’t remember exactly when.

You change. Snap. Bit of both.

It’s an outer-body experience when forced to fight something bigger than you. The initial chill of a bully’s threat grabs your spine and tightens; ostensibly, the fear it thrives on whips around your core until it finds a place to settle in.

Take over.

And you don’t breathe. 

The absorption of my bully (a corporate-type with a rotted, cancerous core) stole 15 pounds from me in 10 days. I stopped eating. Little water intake. I became dangerously dehydrated. I permanently lost  50% kidney function.

No doubt it’s injurious when bully teeth find your weak spot. Organs cower.

Your brain shuts down. 

Permanent injury is always a risk when bullies are involved.

ice monster

But then.

Your will to survive jump starts; eventually you thrive with the bully tight inside.

You worry what will happen when the bully retreats.

Because now.

The cold is an ally; you understand it’s insidious nature like you were born with it.

Once a threat. Now a teacher.

And the lessons keep coming.

The knowledge is such a part of you now.

A hunger is fed to know more.

What once was ice is now heat.

It’s at that point the fear dissolves.

You pull in. Sharpen your weapons.

After all, there’s not much left to lose.

Because so much has been drained already.

Organs hurt.

Bruises erupt.

Several are yet to show.

You wonder how the damage will shape itself into arsenal.

Next year.

In a decade.

Every day you’re sharper. The will to fight returns.

Will you be the same?

Probably not.

It’s not bad, really.

It’s.

Different.

Raw.

You can taste the salt in the blood even when blood isn’t drawn.

dog battle

You’ve crossed over, jumped a fence, busted up who you were before. Rebuilt.

There’s a bit more dirt and grind in your thoughts, your decisions. You move slow.

Each step means more now.

Because in the heat of battle, it could be your last foot forward.

Step back and you may die.

As you push forward you may die too.

It feels like a no-win.

But you must fight your bullies sometimes.

No matter how small you are, there’s a way to shake up your giants.

Inside and out.

In the trenches of your mind, there’s a way to fight the bullies and survive.

stop bullying

Random Thoughts:

1). Bullies target your core & create fantasy. My corporate bullies deem me a “mole” for another organization (on public record) and are working diligently to destroy my 24-year career. When bullies start to punch, observe where the blows land. Notice the swings. Take them in.

Then wait.

Formulate strategy. You’ll need to be laser-targeted and long-term in approach. Expose bullies for what they are. The greater they are the more vulnerable they are, too. Maintain a cool head. Anger is part of their arsenal. Not yours.

Bullies despise negative exposure: They abhor the truth. Truth will can cause formidable injury to a bully. However, remember what I wrote: You’ll need to take the punches, see where they land and wait to strike. And always use the truth. That’s sufficient. Never slander.

2). Seek blood. Just decide carefully where and when the puncture wounds should enter. Seek to retaliate with surgical blades as bullies come running at you waving machetes. They won’t expect you to fight. They expect you to succumb. Hold them accountable. Use public forums. Bullies abhor their hypocrisy exposed.

demons cry It’s ok to make your bullies cry.

3). Don’t back down. Temporarily dazed, permanently scarred; the wounds will soon scab over. Treat them as badges of courage. Bullies will seek to wear you down, apply mental weight. They want you to die.  

Eat healthy. Create an aerobic exercise program and stick with it no matter how tired you are from their kicking.

4). Level the playing field. You can’t win fighting a bully head on. However, a well-galvanized army can help you detect vulnerabilities and create a flanking strategy. Out your bullies utilizing social media, contact radio and television media.

Gather the opinions of powerful people. Understand who’s ready to fight with you. You may be surprised by the size of your army. You may be shocked by who’s willing to help. Win the war one mind at a time. Chip away at a bully’s false sense of superiority; you can’t do it alone. As you settle to fight, you’ll gain indispensable knowledge of your own internal hard drive and wiring. Consider yourself a warrior. The war over a bully’s mind begins with harnessing the power of your own.

If your enemy is within, expose it. Others will hold you accountable for defeating it. People love a good comeback story.

5). Ego is a money thug. Bullies force you to maintain appearances. You’ll overspend, abuse credit, drain your wallet to keep up an image. Short-term satisfaction is your ego’s intention to weaken you, especially your finances.

I have been the target of bullies since childhood. I was overweight, held on to some respectable man boobs at age 11. Nurtured a crazy mother.

I was socially awkward.

I never knew what it was like to be the star jock, date a cheerleader.

I couldn’t play sports for shit (still can’t).

I’ve been bully food for 44 years.

And it was all for this time.

To fight.

Expose.

Win.

And appreciate the damaged road.

That awaits.

Because there’s victory.

In the crossing.

damaged road

The First Meeting with a Financial Adviser – 5 Signs to Cut and Run.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

It’s frustrating, time consuming and intimidating to find the perfect financial professional.

It’s the first meeting (finally).

What signs should raise the hairs on the back of your neck?

hair back of nneck

First hair: Products are discussed. How can an adviser discuss products when they have no idea of your situation? The initial meeting is one of inquiry and discovery, not solution or product. It’s fine if you have a product-based question, other than that? No.

Second hair: Too talky. You are seeking an inquisitive, active listener. Not a talker. You should be doing most of the jaw boning, not your prospective adviser.

Third hair: Not enough questions. A good adviser is like Columbo in less-wrinkled clothing. Keep a detective’s eye out for open-ended questions which allow you to tell your story and share concerns.

columbo one Heck, if it’s a good adviser, forgive a messy tie.

Fourth hair: Limited eye contact

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