When Fear Turns to Strength – 4 Ways to Stand for What you Believe.

Richard Rosso:

There’s a switch inside your brain. Maybe deeper than that. A beacon, a light, buried under the ice. Takes a lot to turn it on – the switch to warmth comes from faith and fight. A passion for what you believe, because you know it’s the right thing. For others.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

“She may never come out of this Richard, but she may. You never know.”

Some doctor at Coney Island Hospital blurted these meaningless words at me. Advised me how this time around, this attempt to take her life was most likely, going to be successful. Or not.

Mom really did it this time, that I did realize. Now in a coma. I saved her. Just in time. At least I thought I did. Obviously, to the doc anyway, my “just in time,” was not timely enough. Or was it? I couldn’t tell from his words.

And I was scared. She was hooked to a respirator. Last time she tried to take her own life, mom was home the next day, following a stomach pumping. This felt different. Or didn’t.

It looked bad. And at ten years old I was scared. Shaken. Perhaps this doctor was right. Or not. The system…

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Is Your Money Sub-Optimized – 6 Methods To Making The Most Of Your Money & Life.

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“I think we’re doing the right things with money but we feel sub-optimized.”

money burning

Twenty-four years guiding others through financial challenges, thousands of words, and oddly I experienced personal angst over this one -“sub-optimized.”

It’s rare the word arises, if at all. There was something about it that captured my ear and mind. I wondered about the obstacles that create what I call “dollar drag,” whereby the highest and best use of our money is overlooked or ignored.

Sub-optimization is an equal opportunity offender. We all are afflicted, even if our track record of handling money is better than average. There can be great intentions, even respectable core money habits and yet sub-optimization thrives because we’re human.

As in the case of this forty-something couple: Six-figure wage earners, ambitious savers who set aside 20% of income for retirement, well-funded 529 plans for young children and saddled with dangerous credit card debt levels due to a failed real estate venture.

Overall, I give them high marks when it comes to handing their money however a simple solution to reduce the high-interest debt was clearly in front of them and they couldn’t see it. They couldn’t wrap their minds around their financial condition in its entirety. There was a mental barrier between the personal and business debt even though they were the business. In other words, the burdensome interest charges affected their household net worth.

As a financial professional I realize nobody can avoid some degree of sub-optimization or dollar drag. Much of it stems from a failure in our logic called mental accounting.

See, we like to compartmentalize money: We create mental walls that prevent us from considering how each dollar can flow freely through and across various goals to the final and best destinations on our household balance sheets.

Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and New York Times best-selling author helped me understand how to position “highest and best use” in my mind. He said “every financial decision has an opportunity cost. You cannot make the best money choices in a vacuum.”

You must revolve around each decision and control where your money lands.

full circle thinking

So, how can you make better financial choices and think full circle?

 Random Thoughts:

1). Break it down and look around. Don’t perceive every financial challenge as a straight edge with a beginning and conclusion. It leads to narrow thinking and sub-optimization at the point of action.  Round out your thought process. Go where you never been before. When presented with a financial decision, break down the walls, goals, compartments and picture how all your dollars can flow free from their different types of accounts and work together to achieve the greatest impact to your bottom line.

When performing this exercise with my fiscally responsible couple, we concluded that utilizing an existing home equity line of credit at less than 4% interest, to pay off the credit card with 21% interest rate, was an optimum conclusion.  It was a major improvement never considered because the mental barriers were thick between business and personal accounts. Once those barriers were removed, a solution was obvious.

2). Grab every opportunity to assess the opportunity (cost).  I’ve gone overboard with this one. I take lessons seriously from influences like Dan Ariely and share them with anyone who will listen. I now examine the “full circle” of every money choice. I’m obsessed with dollar drag.

During a recent evening out, before ordering at an iconic Texas barbecue place, I stepped back and thought of what else I could do with the money.  Was this the “highest and best use” for my $28 bucks? I took away the walls and permitted the money to flow through other options including eating at home. I had to weigh the opportunity cost until I either returned full circle to the current choice, or stopped on a better solution. Better doesn’t always mean cheaper, either. When it comes to opportunity cost you need to input much into the calculation including what your time is worth and qualitative factors.

If anything, this type of exercise will allow you to pause before making a purchase and create awareness about other options that may bring greater satisfaction and value.

And yes, I went for the pork ribs and fixings.

omg bbq

3). Think rooftop, not basement. When you bust down the walls between dollars, you begin to think bigger (and smarter). You’re up on the roof looking out and over the landscape of your finances. You begin to see how fungible money is.

Most of the time, we rummage in the basement where it’s dark and narrow because of the laser-focus on the problem.  Unfortunately, the longer we concentrate, the less we observe lucrative options hiding in plain sight. That’s why financial decisions should begin from a holistic perspective (roof) and then narrowed down to the basement or specific issues at hand.

For example, when gasoline prices were shy of 4 dollars a gallon, I was inundated with inquiries about trading in paid-off automobiles for new gas-efficient options. In other words, I was being asked whether spending $32,000 was worth the saving of $600 a year at the gas pump. The numbers didn’t work out advantageously. Once you consider the opportunity cost of spending five figures, well, you’re on the roof and seeing things from a clearer perspective. From there, dollars may flow to higher uses or in these cases, not flow inefficiently to paying additional debt from automobile loans.

4). Hire a navigator. The navigators are out there. The best financial advisers are sensitive to their own emotional biases and can help others navigate through theirs. There’s a synergy and greater satisfaction when a financial partner can help reduce barriers and encourage breakthrough or “a-ha” moments. You always appreciate the highest and best use of a navigator. Ostensibly, your net worth should be affected positively, too.

5). Live your retirement plan optimization. The majority of people I meet have a retirement strategy. It exists in their heads but not in writing. Those who have a formal, written plan tend to weigh opportunity costs or are at the least, sensitive to the implications of their financial choices.  Since plans take into account your entire financial picture they direct you to focus on the big picture. Eventually, emotional walls fall, and you can easily think full circle and assess how every decision made today affects your retirement start date.

6). How sub-optimized are your relationships? As you grow as an individual, a force, you must consistently optimize your relationships to determine who is worthy of your inner circle. All the others must be cast away. They’re weights tied to your spirit and they will pull you down to shitsville.  Surround yourself with those who are smarter than you (not just book smart, but also will expose you to learning experiences outside your comfort zones). Also, people who make you laugh inspire optimization.

Oh..

Now that you’re in the mood to bust boundaries around money, keep in mind that any account can be a retirement account. Just because it’s not held with your employer or doesn’t have “IRA” in the title, doesn’t mean the dollars you save aren’t applicable to retirement. Society, to a degree, has encouraged mental accounting by sanctioning retirement vs. non-retirement accounts.

As part of your change in thinking, consider all money in one pool. You decide how it flows to its most honorable (and hopefully lucrative) conclusion.

Sub-optimization optimized my thinking; I hope it’s sparked a new perspective for you.

A clearer journey.

Without barriers.

And less drag on your dollars.

It’s time go full circle.

 

3 Ways Sexy Plastic Can Make You Smarter.

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As I kid, I was turned on by plastic.

Plastic models.

Well, plastic model (hobby) kits.

From a company named Aurora.

A wonderful place.

Fuck off Willy Wonka and your chocolate minions.

This factory was IT.

Aurora

Oh Aurora how I miss your wonderfully kitschy plastic pop-culture glue and snap together sexiness.

It was a company I adored. No. more than adored. I was obsessed.

Everything they manufactured was perfect in my eyes.

Aurora Plastics Corporation was founded in 1950 by Joseph Giammarino in Brooklyn, New York (my hometown, sniff).

I thank him to this day. He was a model master.

I required every molded monster, television personality that came of the magical Aurora factory. Even the box art was cool.

Don’t ask me how much the empty boxes go for on auction sites.

aurora box Empty box. – $300.Gasp.

My favorite series was the controversial Monster Scenes plastic snap-together kits.

They primed me for puberty before the the babysitter nudie-girlie dances entered my  Saturday nights (long story).

Released in the early 70’s to revitalize the brand, (then owned by Nabisco the cookie company interestingly enough), Aurora released the scantily clad, barefooted “Victim” model kit complete with outfit of a hottie hitchhiker right out of a Grindhouse flick.

It was love at first snap.

Bless her plastic cutoffs.

I owned two of the kits.

Don’t ask.

the victim

Then out came Vampirella  complete with ample bosom and sharp teeth that dealt the final blow to my childhood.

A busty female vampire in an outfit or what was left of one; cut way too provocative for the audience it was designed for. How I wished she could bite me with those plastic fangs (or at least rub against me in that outfit). Well, she did rub against me in that outfit. I don’t recall any objections although she did come apart at the seams at times. Glue was definitely stronger then *snap*.

I’m ashamed to recall how many times I ran my hands over her fine tan plastic (I never used paint as suggested by the instructions). Stopping at her breasts. Creating ringlets. Gently with an index finger. Giggling. Always giggling.

Me. Not her.

vampirella Her artwork was A cup. The actual kit? D cup. Definitely.

Let’s just say parents (pent-up moms; dads were too busy with spinning index fingers), were enraged with this line of model kits.

Didn’t help how the box illustrations were provocative artsy, plastered with “Rated X…for Excitement,” printed on the tops.

The “Victim” model was an accessory of sorts, well she was a victim. Slim enough to fit into scene kits named “The Pain Parlor” and “The Hanging Cage.” Guess it’s understandable why the National Organization for Women were in an uproar and stormed Nabisco headquarters.

hanging cage victim The cage. My victims favored the cage.

It’s tough to swallow but these kits were responsible for the final blow to the Aurora empire. Concerned parents’ groups in the early 70’s deemed these model kits and playsets too sinister and depraved for their sensitive, impressionable youth.

Worried moms and dads (oh please, dads were forced), mounted an assault on all the popular monster toys and comics of the day, urging boycotts and letter writing campaigns.

In November 1971, the kits were shipped for sale in Canada (yet another reason to admire Canada, I guess), and the original molds destroyed.

The entire creative team for Aurora was fired. Heartbreaking.

I would trek miles to find these kits. Several stores in Brooklyn still carried them after they were discontinued. I remember one dimly-lit five & dime outlet across town with the balls to still sell them. Cost was 2-4 bucks.Today at auction I’ve seen pristine kits, still in shrink wrap going for up to $800. Talk about an investment!

The gold old days of voluptuous plastic are gone. Well, not really. There is some around. It’s cost prohibitive but replace may your love interest. Add it up. Should be cheaper than a significant other.

realistic love doll

I confess. My mother made my entire (10) G.I. Joe Adventure Team disappear in 1975 when she discovered a couple of naked Barbies in the map room of the G.I. Joe Headquarters.

What a shame. Another fortune lost.

It was all innocent. Really!

GI JOe command center The map room was comfy.

Random Thoughts:

1). Cherish your memories. Remember the joy of your personal history. It made you who you are. It placed you where you are right now. Cherish the plastic chains of your past yet know when they’ve overstayed their welcome. Your past has no place in your current. Unless you fit nicely into a Vampirella outfit. In that case, call me.

2). Know when it’s time to destroy the molds. Of who you were. You’re not there anymore. I believe I’m smarter and better than the day before. Know when it’s time to fire the creative team or the inner and outer voices that stir your ego, feed you stories that don’t suit your life path and tell you how you must follow rules you didn’t create.

3). Plastic toys can still be fun. OK, read into this the way you like. I control my credit cards. I use and abuse them for everything. My new plastic “victims.” I pay them off monthly and take the reward points. I also use the itemized statements to monitor my spending habits and seek areas of improvement. Like when I cut $20,000 in annual restaurant spending down to $3,000.

Plastic can be your friend. It can do all kinds of stuff, even vibrate from what I hear.

Discover how the enjoyment over your present is much better than what thrilled you in the past.

I can admire a “Victim” Monster Scenes Kit in original packaging without regret over where I’ve been.

It keeps me out of the cages and pain parlors created by those who don’t have my best interests at heart.

You must do the same to survive.

dont worry its new york

 

 

Serpents: Six Ways To Tame The Snakes In Your Head.

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“Serpents, snakes. They’re here with me.”

He resembled Precious except for the frantic flop-mop of black hair,shiny from oil; parted in the middle like demon Alfalfa. He had a mouth full of broken teeth, too. His parents never bothered to fix them. Maybe they did and gave up.

What a special human (I think) gift to Brooklyn.

His eyes bulged like snakes were pushing them, trying to pop them and escape from behind the sockets.

precious

He loved to take big shits in a graveyard of broken glass and construction debris somewhere under the elevated subway line cordoned by shaky fencing in one of the gray-shaded lots between Coney Island and home.

Never failed. He’d beckon me over in a frenzy, pointing feverishly at a steaming pile of fresh Raymains as I called them.

I looked. Every time.

Oddly, I admired him; I never had the guts to crap in public. Literally, my bowels would freeze up. I attempted it once. My white Fruit Of The Looms paid the price.

I poked hot and steamy with a shard of glass. Once.Twice. Hell, I lost count.

He giggled every time. Must have been my face. Disgust, curiosity. More pokes, more high-pitched giggles from deep in the throat. I must have tickled a snake into a slither.

Raymond always did odd things, some actions bordered on frightening.

I was afraid to be his friend, more afraid of not.

Out of nowhere, a July afternoon, he dangled his penis in daylight at a 1975 Ford Maverick -stop sign. Avenue S. He just decided to whip it out. I witnessed the incident.

The guy behind the wheel didn’t appreciate the gesture and quickly bolted from the driver’s seat, his orange and white-trimmed Ford slow rolled into the busy intersection. Passenger girlfriend still in shock from floppy private parts at high noon.

The burly dude was faster than I imagined, like his beer belly was fuel storage. Must have been the adrenaline rush.

He stayed on Raymond’s heels all the way through an empty public schoolyard. Public School 215, to be specific. The stumpy guy was quick, but petered out (no pun intended) as Raymond picked up the pace and sprinted like a ghoulish gazelle on feet too big for his wiry frame.

As I observed the drama unfold and Raymond run erratically around the yard like a frightened rat in a cage, I could hear his vocal screech ebb and flow as the husky driver eventually slowed, stopped and fell over from exhaustion. Maybe it was that freak-ass loud laugh that sucked the energy from Mr. Maverick.

“Serpents! Snakes in basement, snakes on the roof!” Raymond bellowed.

He would regularly blurt a whisper of choppy words and sentences, observations about how snakes and serpents good or bad, guided his motivations. Based on how much he masturbated in public, I wondered if the basement reptile was his man parts.

People in the neighborhood said he was crazy. I thought maybe, just maybe, he was the sane one.

Perhaps there is something to these snakes that slide in-between thoughts and push us to enlightenment or frighten us to conform. If there are too many, they can make you insane enough to defecate in abandoned city spaces.

If I closed my eyes in stillness, I heard the snakes in my own head.

I think about you often, Raymond.

This is for you.

My long lost creature teacher.

snake and apple

Random Thoughts:

1). How many snakes will drive you to insanity? In my gut I felt Raymond wrestled with (or not) at least ten. What is the “right” number? How many can a person handle? Love, genius, passion, apathy, lunacy? The paths created by society’s handlers and the actions that push you to test and ostensibly thrive outside rules others have set for you feel like at first, demon snakes. But they’re not. They live to scare you out of complacency. They live to set you free from the cage; you resist until one attacks, causes enough pain. I guess if I must slither in and out of what life is and not what I want it to be, several serpents will be sacrificed to the mental altar of mediocrity. If I remain aware of the deceptive snakes of status quo, reptiles are welcomed as long as they play nice, submit. I’m extremely sensitive to trimming the herd.

2). Learn to detect and handle your own breed of serpents. Lose control for long and you’re shitting in inappropriate places. Definitely a snake gone awry. Tame what frightens you. Are your fears real or imagined? Decide which snake you’re going to breed – fear or fact. You must work at it every day. Thin the herd. You kill or they feed. Your decision. Some people believe they must scare themselves out of great lives, great loves and great thinking. Don’t be one of them. Everything changes, like the path of a snake. Learn to detect important crossroads and intersects.

3). Non-poisonous snakes are dangerous, too. The snakes of the gatekeepers act like they’re looking out for you but they are expert deceivers. Although there is protection – as long as you follow their instructions, swallow their lies, promote their false stories, the non-poisonous can turn lethal real quick. I experienced it. I’m ashamed and angered about how much poisonous corporate culture I ingested, what I lost personally, due to forked tongues. Where are the non-poisonous snakes that can turn on you once you understand their true motivations?

4). Have faith that the good serpents will protect you. I’ve done a good job with my good serpent/lethal serpent ratio. When I’m feeling insecure, fearful, I galvanize the most powerful of them; they prey on the weaker brethren when I instruct them now. Understand the difference between the good and bad ones. Serpents that compel you to shit outside or on the toilet (and wipe efficiently) look the same. Eventually, after a few bites, you’ll just know the difference.

5). Treat debt like prey. You can make a snake pit full of money and still be broke. Excessive debt is like the fat rat in a den of Ball Pythons. Eventually, you’re surrounded, overwhelmed and swallowed. Ultimate empowerment comes from inflow greater than your outflow. Then when evil serpents pay a visit, you have enough surplus to exterminate them. You’ll also have enough money to provide the good snakes what they feed on – positive change, self improvement, travel. Hell, or do what my friend Kelly did – Pick up and pursue your dream in a new environment.

6). Let your serpents roam. The rodents live among us: They thrive on narcissism and negative energy.They are the takers. Allow your serpents to feast brazenly on them. Only then will you prosper. No longer will your view be blocked. The serpents of love, discovery, unbridled passion will breed and flourish.

So will you. Carried along for the best journey of your life.

scary serpent

I wonder what happened to Raymond.

He swallowed “Good and Plenty’s” like they were pills. Never chewed.

good and plenty two

“Snake medicine!”

I hope he’s become a master snake handler.

I pray he’s stopped shitting in the summer humidity.

And keeps his balls in his pants at intersections.

I truly believe he’s not trapped by what society says he should be.

He makes his own rules.

Him and the serpents.

Now it’s your turn to release the best of them.

And kill the rest.

Your happiness depends on it.

 

Seven Lessons from Small-Town Folk – A Texas Town Love Story.

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July 10, 1877: How can there be so much blood? John knew what he was seeing wasn’t good. Blood this dark meant something serious; something arterial hit by the bul­let. Heavy twill pants went saturated so quickly they might as well have been made of cheap linen.

cowboy r

A shaken, ashen-faced 30 year-old John Hardeman tried to remain calm.

He falsely assured his brother all would be well as William Hardeman bled to death in the gravel of a red-dust main street. The ground was so parched William’s life liquid didn’t soak in, it pooled in a warm bubble underneath him.

Nowhere to go, it rose and spread, beaded over the grit – light red, then dark to black. Like Texas crude rising from below.

“Get that dyin’ man out of the street, it’s bad for business!” bellowed “Rowdy Joe” Lowe who operated the only gambling house in town…

Allegedly the shooting was over an unpaid gambling debt. Justice swiftly rendered.

For decades the dusty mecca of Luling, Texas (pop. 5,500) has celebrated all that is cold, wet and sweet through its annual watermelon thump. Once coined the “toughest town in Texas,” Luling was initially known as a center-point rest-and-rambunctious stop for cattle drivers along the Chisholm Trail. It’s sort of odd it would become associated with anything as sweet and refreshing as ripe watermelon but so it goes in Texas.

dude melo

An acrid odor arises from oil pumps, punches the stillness, (I’m told it’s gas) and irritates the nostrils. The faint aroma of metal grind on metal as the railroad, along with an ear-piercing whistle, rolls through frequently and mixes with the fragrance of barbecue that rises and suspends in smoke-filled gossamer ribbons.

Luling’s era as a hub for heavy commerce and cattle are long gone. Yet warm shadows of the past embrace the inevitable invasion of the present. They cast vigilant shade. Progress is allowable only to a point, never enough to shut out the light of what was.

Current residents are far from back woods. There’s a clothesline here and there with large overalls hanging, I’ll give you that.

Most dwellings are not much to view. They’re worn from constant heat. Need work. Sun-faded remnants of outdoor plastic toys litter front and back yards.

A tattered couch on a porch catches the eye.

There exist old majestic structures that gleam white and border the center of town beautifully preserved. The history in the walls is nurtured. Artistry lives in the wood, expansive porches, columns that guard grand entrances halls.

Ordinary episodes of daily life strain through a time warp – polite words travel along bands of narrow streets within this close-knit town webbed to a rail line. When trains run, a round sound of train whistle sepia tones the sky. Clouds halt above. The current year fades in decade drips.

The signs of enlightenment are there for those open enough to accept them. The teachings carry strong on the smell of industry, the local smoked cuisine and in the sweetness of carnival caramel corn. White-hot brick walls and penetrating sunlight can’t stop history from fading. And for this I’m grateful.

True: Folks are comfortable with rusted memories of accomplishments long ago although they seem fine to allow the past to co-exist. In fact they relish and celebrate the idea, especially when the thump raises Luling’s map dot even if it’s for only for a few days.

luling theatre

Otherwise, not much happens. And I’m being polite. I mean nothing absolutely happens here. Just living and dying in a small town. Naturally, football pride (Friday Night Lights) is strong like most places in Texas. Oil and gas exploration is experiencing a renaissance in this area, too.

A slight claim to fame was the 2006 movie “The Return,” a horror/supernatural thriller starring Sarah Michelle Gellar who portrayed a young woman haunted by psychic visions of a murder that happened years back in the character’s hometown of, that’s right, Luling.

sarah return

Then there’s the watermelon. Lots of watermelon.

Every year, homage is paid to a produce-induced vision of a school principal from way back. Another world in fact: 1954.

Carnival festivities and watermelon-themed events like seed spitting (not as gross as it sounds) are bathed in ropes of colorful party lights for four fun-filled days.

A warm breeze carries a pungent wave from a teeter-tottering arm of an aged oil pump and bounces it across and through what seems like endless strings of tiny white lights. The lights flicker so much I can’t tell whether watermelon is a fruit or a vegetable in the ebb and flow of reflection. This is a big controversy on the internet by the way. I stick with watermelon as a fruit. I don’t like my vegetables sweet. That’s how I roll.

Activities kick off on a Thursday evening with the crowning of “Watermelon Queen,” selected from a small group of junior-high and high-school young ladies. Sponsored by community services and local businesses, the girls, dressed in formal best, gather at an outdoor aged wooden structure called the “pavilion” and sit nervously awaiting the judg­es’ decision. The “fresh-picked” Queen holds the primary responsibility of representing the town at upcoming statewide events and local school and business functions until the next thump and new royalty is crowned.

For six consecutive years, my daughter and I have honored the tradition and at the same time, created a strange one of our own by sweltering in the Texas humidity.

Partaking with gusto in all that small town hospitality has to offer.

For temporary relief at least, watermelon is plentiful. Icy-cold that stings the gums (two slices two dollars). Miles of funnel cake and food specialties are savory high-caloric backups.

I’ve visited at least a dozen times (for savory barbeque served on butcher-brown paper at the iconic City Market), and came to know business owners and residents at least on cordial speaking terms.

city market

I’m viewed as sort of odd man out and been laughingly called a Yankee a time or two, however hospitality runs strong in these parts and no matter how out of place I appear, I am treated as warmly as a native (after light jabbing).

A fascination with Texas history rolled me down Interstate 10. I have remained intrigued as those I encounter manage to survive, even thrive on modest financial resources (a per-capita income of roughly $13,000 a year).

I‘ve been a respectful observer. Under the radar. A speck on painted oil pump.

painted pil pup

My window of observation is usually limited due to the July blast-furnace Texas heat.  Surprisingly weather conditions were different this year. The late afternoon brought with it a front of cooler air which pushed out humidity, broke the heat and exposed a pinkish-blue Technicolor sky against a busy Ferris wheel dripping in colorful carnival lights.

2014-06-26 20.35.41

Over the years, I’ve compiled notes of the best of lessons from the residents of Luling.

Here are seven of the most memorable random thoughts:

“I don’t eat the whole chicken all at once, just a piece at a time.” You can’t make this stuff up! Those who seek immediate satisfaction or look to get rich quick are go­ing to suffer from incredible financial indigestion or worse. Growing wealth isn’t magic – it begins with a financial awareness of cash flow, consistently spending less than household income, managing debt and a saving and/or investment plan for specific life benchmarks like retirement.

Many feel the tasks too overwhelming. Why bother?

Well, listen to Luling: Take a baby step: If you’re not saving, start. Even if it’s an additional $50 a month to bolster an emergency cash stash. Increase your 401(k) or retirement plan contributions by one percent next week. Apply as much as you can to get credit card bills paid off quickly. Take the action now. Worry about the repercussions on the budget later. Take a step forward. Find a way to make it work.

“Don’t owe nothin’ to nobody.” Appears those with smarts in Caldwell County, mostly the “senior folk,” abhor debt. The gentlemen who blurted this insight at me had a mouth full of ribs and a face devoid of several teeth (meat falls right off the bone at City Market).

Wisdom happens even if those providing it are all gums. U.S. households are slowly getting their balance sheets in order and that requires reducing debt and work­ing to aggressively increase savings. Be proud of the eventual independence that comes from becoming debt free.cipal, inter­est, taxes and insurance doesn’t exceed 25 percent of gross monthly income. Stan­dard rule of thumb is 28 percent; my advice is to come in below as the rule is antiquated like many of the downtown Luling facades. I have been disciplined enough to follow a “20 percent of gross” mantra. But then I’ve never perceived a house as an investment – just a place to hang the hat.

Side note: City Market only takes cash – no credit cards, no checks. You can enjoy melt-in-your-mouth brisket without taking on additional debt. The establishment is eternally smoky and there’s no air conditioning. Spicy sauce makes the experience hotter. Don’t worry. As the sweating kicks in you feel cooler.

bbq

“You can fool yourself but the pigs’ll still laugh at you.” I needed to think outside the box with this one. Emotion is the greatest enemy of investment and financial suc­cess. Individual investors are constantly plagued by overconfidence (you didn’t beat the market, I’m sorry-you didn’t). You consistently sell low and buy high, hold on to losers too long, sell winners prematurely and create trends in your head where none exist. Understand your limitations and emotional biases and you’ll be much more successful. You’ll deny this at first.

Most important with the 200% run-up in markets since March 2009, I’m starting to observe (finally) signs of recency bias among retail investors as they project their most recent stock market experience into the future. In other words, we are growing too comfortable with lofty stock market returns and the unusual absence of corrections and that’s as dangerous as Luling’s Main Street in 1877.

Your performance should be gauged against specific goals you have for money, not an index like the S&P 500. Your performance should be compared on an absolute basis, to the return you require to hit the gusher (Texas talk). I consider it “financial life benchmarking.”

Financial life benchmarks are those specific milestones you create, accomplish and check off. They move you ahead, keep you focused and ostensibly bolster your household balance sheet.

There’s a point, a law of diminishing returns (or financial wheel-spinning) where you’ll take on more risk and not receive a commensurate amount of return. The problem is a bell doesn’t ring or an alarm doesn’t go off once you approach or breach the danger zone whereby additional risk is not complimentary but greatly detrimental to future results. When you’re focused on beating the market, you will lose sight of the risk and wind up like poor William Hardeman as your net worth bleeds away.

FLB helps you understand clearly the returns you require to get to where you want to be – It’s about you, not a market index. It’s your life, your attitude towards money, what’s important to you about having the money to meet lifestyle goals all wrapped together in a functional action plan. It’s your town and the roads are unlike any others.

By the way, those I’ve encountered with impressive success in markets rarely brag about it. Look in the mirror and understand how the stock market will humble you today. Always perceive markets as ornery as “Rowdy Joe.”

The heat won’t kill ya until it does.” I needed to sit a spell after hearing this Lone Star nugget of wisdom. What the heck did it mean? Then I realized-in Texas you respect the heat and understand the danger of oppressive weather conditions on your health. Ignore the heat and deal with the consequences. The famous quote by Albert Einstein comes to mind: “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

If your current relationship with money or yourself is subpar, it isn’t going to change it­self. Overextending on credit, not saving for retirement or at least forming a strategy, a lack of an emergency cash buffer, using spending as a substitute for happiness, not taking care of your body physically/mentally, failing to continue to learn will burn you to a crisp.

Start a personally heated change wave. It doesn’t need to be huge. A habit takes repetition to become second nature. Soon a healthier and wealthier routine will be yours but it doesn’t happen by accident.

“Hay is gold.” An unprecedented drought and elongated period of record heat, and hay becomes a valuable commodity in Texas. All of life comes down to supply and demand. Right now there’s a greater supply of you and little demand. Just look inside the unemployment rate or employment numbers. There’s a surplus of labor and lots of slack.

What makes you unique?

It’s a tough reality. The skills you had, or even the career you thrived on have a greater chance of being sour permanently since the Great Recession occurred. That doesn’t mean you don’t possess several core strengths to expand upon. Confidence in your personal skills and abilities has been shaken more than any other time in history outside the Great Depression. Take control.

“I’ll take small quality over big a big stack of nothin’.” I admit it. I overheard this one. Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. Texans also respect and appreciate quality and pureness of heart over size. It’s a good time to go smaller. How much you need anyway?

Luling is home to an interesting business: Tiny Texas Houses. Each house is made of 99 percent salvaged materials. No structure is bigger than 12’ x 28’ with a loft. How much square footage you need? Get yourself two dogs (they’re loyal), two acres and possibly a person to keep you company once in a while and you’ll be styling.

I’ve been preachin’ this two dogs, two-acre sentiment for years because it seems right to me. Feels like true independence. Peace of mind comes from taking in more than you need to meet expenses. I’ve been told that too, in Luling. I’ve seen it.

“The past has a place but shouldn’t interfere too much with the present.” The new owners and staff of the Francis-Ainsworth Bed & Breakfast are in the process of restoring the historic structure for a new generation of guests to enjoy. I feel history tap me on the shoulder here. It’s a presence which lightly beckons, lowers its head in deference as I enter, and invites me to never forget to respect what’s come before me. I’m merely passing through.

With that I learn how I must deeply preserve those in my inner circle, swiftly cut out negative presences, continue my understanding of the human condition and work to assist, respect my teachers.

2014-06-29 08.14.14

In August, 1922 another shaken, ashen-faced man watched as black bled into dirt. The flow of the liquid was so strong it cut a trail into sunbaked earth for over a mile.

The discovery of oil by Edgar B. Davis changed Luling’s landscape dramatically in 1922. He mortgaged everything he owned and was about to throw in the towel when Rafael Rios #1 became a gusher. Edgar Davis’ creation of the Luling Oil Field promoted rapid growth as the town population grew to 6,000 and 100 new businesses were created by 1928.

At its peak, the oil field produced 11,134,000 barrels.

One 100 degree-plus day in 2011 as I stood outside of Blake’s Restaurant on Main Street, a hot breeze overtook me. I could barely breathe. With it came the odor from nearby operating oil pump jacks. I crinkled my nose – who wouldn’t?

An elderly local walking by tipped his white cowboy hat at me, stopped and politely said:

“I wouldn’t do that son, that’s the smell of money.”

It was another trip. The same trip. But it was different.

The heat was cathartic.

The watermelon was sweeter.

The lessons were timely.

And the train kept going on through.

Until next year.

The whistle blows.

Knifing through the humidity of what now is past.

union pacific

 

 

 

Six Money Habits Of Unhappy Couples.

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We’ve all heard the horror stories of couples suffering in a toxic money mix.

Married or unmarried – it doesn’t matter.

screaming married

Financial harmony is crucial to a couple’s long-term synergy with money.

From my experience, the ones with cohesive financial strategies are the most successful.

Over the years, I’ve documented several unfavorable money behaviors exhibited by couples. In greater than 95% of the cases observed, the relationships ended on bad terms.

The top six:

1). They disrespect each other’s credit. One of the worst fiscal violations I’ve witnessed is how credit is misused in a relationship which causes a party’s credit score to falter as credit card balances are increased leaving the trusting partner in a relationship, on the hook for the bills. I have seen otherwise smart individuals allow a partner to use their credit and turn a blind eye to misuse. Until it’s too late and they’re in a hole financially – spending years paying back big debts.

Rule: Never permit a loved one, including a marriage partner to take advantage of your available credit and perhaps ruin your credit score, whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not a matter of trust; it’s a matter of control. You must be the steadfast gatekeeper of your available credit and scores. If it’s true love, the other party will appreciate your discipline. If you do share credit, make sure to carefully examine all credit card statements and access credit reports annually for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.

2). Lack of communication. Especially when it comes to life-changing financial decisions or big purchases. It’s ok if you fail to mention lunches or an occasional discretionary purchase. When it comes to large expenditures like expensive durable goods or making big decisions that may affect both parties like a new job offer or decision related to retirement, it’s best to share all relevant information with a partner or spouse before moving forward. Even if it’s a wise decision, the action of sharing and receiving feedback is crucial to the health of a relationship you cherish.

Rule: Before financial decisions bigger than $100 bucks are executed, think twice and open up beforehand. Take to heart information shared through open dialogue. Get an objective third party involved in the mix to listen to both sides and weigh the evidence.

3). Little consideration for the blueprint. Deep in you is a money DNA. Since a small child, you have handled money based on experiences. You also learned from observation and communication – parents, grandparents. If your money mindset conflicts with a partner, that’s ok. There are methods of compromise. If your money mindset is disregarded or even ridiculed, then it’s time to question the viability of the relationship.

Rule: Whether you’re a deep saver or big spender, be receptive to the manner you’re treated if your partner disagrees with your money DNA. The couples who endure are the ones who find a working medium or a hybrid DNA strategy. The key is to watch for language of judgment and money behavior that jeopardizes the current situation or the health of the future household balance sheet.

4). Multiple bailouts are acceptable. You know the type. They mess up with money and then seek others to bail them out like parents or partners. Then the same reckless behaviors are repeated and bailouts continued. It’s bad news. Rarely do I observe couples last long traveling this endless loop. Usually, an observant partner is suckered in more than once and leaves the relationship financially and emotionally fragile.

Rule: A one-time bailout, depending on your financial situation is acceptable. No excuses or money provided when similar mishaps are repeated. It’s a hard rule and it will save you financially. Perhaps you leave with your self-esteem intact, too.

5). Financial success is resented. According to a Pew Research Study from May 2013, a record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. To keep it in perspective, the share was 11% in 1960.

Since the financial crisis I have witnessed women taking additional charge of their finances (and the families) and men in the relationship growing increasingly resentful.

I have worked with couples where women have become increasingly unhappy when partners have taken on additional work responsibilities and time away from their personal activities.

Resentment is poison to any close relationship and detrimental to elevating finances to the next level.

Rule: A resentful attitude over a partner’s success requires thorough and truthful self-reflection. Instead of wasting precious energy on negative emotions, objectively witness and attempt to find ways to mirror the good habits of a successful partner. Ask for guidance. Be open to criticism if it’s positive and leads to self-improvement.

6). Fractured retirement planning and savings goals. Couples who are hesitant to blend retirement goals and fail to align their efforts to meet jointly-created goals, ostensibly fall behind or at the least, miss out on the synergies that accompany working together toward a comfortable retirement.

Rule: Retirement planning is a partnership objective. Coordinating retirement account salary deferrals, examining company retirement plan allocations as one and periodically reviewing progress together must be mandatory for couples who are serious about the quality of their retirement years.

Random Thought:

Couples can be a galvanized force to greater wealth or rapidly deteriorate their combined net worth.

Ongoing financial drama can ruin a relationship.

Be open to the signs, fix them.

walking away

 

Or walk…

Stones to Gravel to Dust: 10 Ways To Grind Your Way To A Better Life.

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Amazing.

When you consider barriers in your mind and heart for the purpose of protection from the illusory risk of being hurt or disappointed, you eventually arrive at a crossroad. When regret over the moments you forgot to live intersect with the art you failed to create, the souls you missed to touch.

Something inside slams the life out of you. Your face is smashed against the stones.

heart wall

In time, walls absorb warmth and dehydrates the health of human vibrancy and a passion for discovery, the willingness to learn. It sucks the all color out of your elevation, dulls the tastes in the mouth; the art you once created withers into gray muck.

And.

Apathy crowds out empathy with each new brick.

The process occurs in great stealth, like absorbed vapor; slowly the walls drain life’s air from who you were before the shit bag of who you are (but it’s not who you really are.)

Walls destroy iterations of all that’s noble in you. The “you” back to childhood – when you were a sponge and innocence opened doors to enrichment (and a few worthy bruises).

photo

You’re.

Eyes wide closed. Blind in the dark. Blinder in the bright. Full steam forward, head down, guarded.

Numb.

Dumb.

Void of passion.

.blindfold cliff

Oh, the hours, the years, the efforts to create what you believe keeps you safe.

Until events outside your control (and those subconscious within).

Rock the foundation.

And reveals the wall for what it is.

Enemy.

evil shadow wall

The first crack in the wall rocked me good. I was sad to realize – I was living a sham. Lifeless corporate job where my sense of well-being was uprooted by assholes in ivory towers almost on a daily basis, an unhealthy infatuation with people I wouldn’t give a second glance at today, and too much alcohol to dull the bullshit, made it palatable.

I was running from pain. At least I thought.

Part of the agony came from the growing realization that I was needing to break free, get my life back, to survive and thrive for whatever years were left.

I helped myself as much as possible with mental stamina I absorbed from the energy of others; people no longer in my life were efficient wall destroyers, too. I’m thankful they were there to take pick axes to it.

However, as I live in peace, I’m grateful every day they’re gone. Ground to dust and cast to the winds of the past.

They no longer effect me.

All the precious energy wasted building and reinforcing structures that had one mission – to live and destroy the builder.

I’m still not sure about the genesis of the angst. Why or when do people decide to chip away at their wall beasts? The chisels, the motivations are different for everybody.

A shock perhaps (for me it was).

A morbid curiosity of what life would be like outside high walls.

The right teachers come along, awaken you, assist with the deconstruction?

Yes.

How much of yourself does it take to turn massive fortresses to stone and then grind them to dust?

How many times must you crush who you were to form a greater self that awakens in the present?

How much of yourself will you lose in the process?

Are you up for the job?

stooge pile

Every chip is a strand of DNA, attached to a part of who you were. And the rubble keeps piling up. Unsettling grit underfoot. The foundation is no longer smooth; the road is covered in rough-busted remnants.

You are troubled by the feel of gravel underneath.

And ahead.

An unsteady path wobbles your resolve.

But you must not stop.

Because to look back is to choke on the dust of vulnerability. Of failure.

It’s a fucking wonder there’s energy left for anything else you know – like working, or checking your e-mail.

As you.

Cut off the oxygen, sever rotted death lines, birth new life threads, and ultimately – a healthier way of being emerges.

A cleaner intake. An enlightened outtake.

Dying along the way is the ticket to a stimulating ride. Sucks.

But that’s the way it is.

Unfortunately, not many are up for the toll it takes on the body, or the weight of the job on the mind. Too immature or self-centered – they’re missing the emotional quota to get smashed by their own stones, pained by the gravel they don’t have enough guts to stumble over, too.

They’re too full of hubris, cowardice to breathe in the dust and puke it up.

breathing

Also, I admit – it’s difficult.

I was thinking:

Where does it say that everybody you encounter needs to tackle this fucking monster wall to get to the deep of you? You crush anyone who goes near it yet you seek someone to crack the code, find the weak spot? Confusing and exhausting.

What forms this barrier to entry?

How high does it go?

Who created this rule?

My grandmother, when something was beyond her comprehension (or outside her little Brooklyn neighborhood), would say to me:

“It’s sky-less.”

What seals this wall beast?

What makes up the mortar?

bloody wall

Oh, I don’t know. It’s a different blend for everyone. I think it’s rejection, disappointment, misguided conclusion, overthinking. Projection. Abandonment. Fetishes of sorts.

Blast-furnace in another quarter of trash from the past you thought was long dead, and watch how you lose control over the entire project.

And you’re gonna need a bigger bulldozer.

To smash your creation. Eye-opening, earth-shattering heavy lifting to get deep underneath this structure, uproot and topple it.

When the dust settles (and for me it took roughly two years), you’ll be thankful for the project. As the wall comes down, second chances emerge.

Relish each tragedy, every revelation; appreciate the loves won and lost. Your choice and challenge is to either forge the masonry or knock out a stone, look through the hole and observe the beauty beyond the barrier.

Consider these ten ways to grind your way to a better life.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tear down walls, erect sails. Create a structure that’s light and captures the air of your passions and creativity. Sure, even an ill wind may throw you off course a bit, however, unlike a wall, a sail will not allow you to stagnate. It won’t close you in. A great challenge is to navigate your course and learn when to expand or contract your sails.

2). Replace heavy bricks. Replace impenetrable bricks of sorrow and regret with a willingness to be open and pliable. Anything that will allow you to see farther than you have before and feed your resiliency is worth the possible risk of hurt. Living within the boundaries of the past to guide present actions will suffocate your rebuilt childlike quality of promise.

3).Take out assholes. Then work diligently to discover and value teachers who will fill mind holes. As walls are razed, it provides openings, even through the dust, for mentors to enter space once occupied by fear and denial. Once your teachers begin to invade, dangerous structures become less menacing. They weaken and crumble at a faster pace than you can accomplish alone.

4). Take risks of the heart and say “fuck it” often. Now that walls are falling, your heart is out there. No protection. Exposing a vulnerable self to others is throwing yourself in front of an emotional bullet; a pure act of love. Consider the act a peace offering to those in your world and ones you seek in your space. It’s not going to feel warm and fuzzy at first.

To evolve in an age of soullessness will never feel right, initially. What ostensibly makes you at ease will always take great courage.

If you make an error in judgment (and you will), consider how resilient your heart truly is. I have learned that the heart is a bottomless well of love and commitment.

5). The words you use mean everything. At one time, I would invite words that formed at the foot of the wall and bled into the foundation. Defeatist sentences that only served the wall and never served me. I’ve noticed the word “why” weakens my spirit. It promotes a victim behavior. “How” is empowering. Ask yourself better questions with positive words and see how your thoughts take you down roads no longer confined by false boundaries.

6). Take a wrecking ball to conventional thoughts about money. Saving all your money in company retirement plans instead of brokerage accounts limits tax flexibility when you need the money the most. It’s financial industry dogma. Why must you purchase a house? How is it the American Dream? Is it truly an investment or merely a place to live?

7). Create and maintain accountability statements. I will be credit-card debt free by January 2015. I will learn a (specific skill) by December 2014. My internal walls are slated too fall today. Right now. Be accountable to the moment you’re in. What it means. How you got here.

8). Find a force. What can you do to turbocharge a positive process? I’ve used anger, fear, passion, revenge, love, faith, hope, hopelessness, laughter, teachers, students, clients, wonderful friends in the media and those creating art for award-winning television fiction/drama. Suck whatever energies you can to propel you forward until you’re a self-sustaining accomplishment machine. I’ve learned that good people are willing to help. To ask for help is a wonderful force. It’s strength, not t weakness to seek guidance. Provide as much gratitude in return.

9). Build protection. Wait a minute. You just advised me to break down walls. OK. One exception: Build layers around your passions. Do it so others can’t discourage you. Protect your resolve with all you’ve got. I’ve observed how many people and organizations bust out the big artillery to focus solely on the destruction of your dreams. They thrive and multiply on failure. I have learned to tune the destroyers out so well, I laugh at their silliness. So will you. I can’t wait to see the smile on your face.

10). Relish what’s in store for you. Can you imagine what’s ahead without debilitating speed bumps and barriers to stop you? The influential people you will touch, and who will touch you. The elevation of mind and spirit. The long-dead exhilaration that comes from resurrecting your true self. The stronger bonds of love and friendship. Like you have never imagined.

A castaway of dead souls.

More “fuck you” in blank faces.

You’re taking “auto” out of “pilot” now.

Fully engaged in the present.

Take the wheel now, squeeze hard.

Feel white-knuckle excitement.

Plow pedal-down fast through what’s held you back. Beat you down.

Watch the dust dance as you create a path of your own.

Observe how the losers choke on it.

And laugh, laugh, laugh.

Dedicated to Amy Bishop.