Retirement Lessons: Rolled From A Rock.

Featured

A version of this post appeared on MarketWatch.

“How much does your money weigh?”

If people want to engage me and discuss retirement planning, the request I have is for them to take time and think back to their first memories around money. I want them to re-engage with how their views formed in the past, shape their present actions and motivations.

We undertake journeys together – back to the genesis of financial and investment philosophies.

I maintain a passion for client stories. Money plays a significant role in each; it’s a larger-than-life character in the human chapters of life.

Many of the conversations are emotional fire starters; over time, the discussions, although relevant, share commonalities. There are the ones you never forget, too.

I had someone share how adult money attitudes were shaped by spending much of his childhood summers exploring a neighborhood historic cemetery.

So, when I encountered a retiree who learned about handling finances from a rock, well, I anxiously listened.

He said – “everything I learned financially for me began with a rock.”

rock

You see, this 69 year-old gentleman is the seventh and youngest child of a large family from Oklahoma. At 10, he discovered quiet and space and off a rural route. A wooded, gravelly patch cordoned off less than a mile from the homestead.

A perfect (and creative) location to secure his valuables from prying siblings. Over time it became a sanctuary from the vestiges of conflicts that erupt among large families.

From pre-teen to teen, an elaborate system was devised. A natural roadmap outlined on a napkin and changed often to throw off those who may become a bit curious. It was a plan which marked how valuables including baseball trading cards, cash and coins would be secured underneath a labyrinth of various-sized rocks. On a regular schedule, the hiding rocks were changed up, covered or replaced by holes under several dead trees. On numerous occasions, items were lost. Eaten.

Dug up and carried off by small animals.

He employed cigar boxes, plastic sandwich bags with yellow paper covered wire to secure them, empty Wonder Bread wrappers printed with the memorable red, yellow and blue balloons.

I couldn’t imagine what was learned from all this effort. Well, I had ideas, however, I never heard of anything like this before in over two decades helping others make financial decisions.

As we met a few times, I began to understand how weathered rocks forged this man’s money behavior. How he rolled along through retirement remembering back so many years. The cold weather, the dirty hands, the lost treasures formed invaluable habits.

So, what were the lessons learned?

Random Thoughts:

Dig deep into your financial foundation on a regular basis. Lift the rock, move earth, start digging. Get dirty, expose what’s been hidden. Before financial planning, it’s time to expose the deepest fears about retirement.  If frozen by fear, your outlook will suffer; you won’t take actions (even small ones) to get you to retirement; you’ll feel hopeless.

The mind has a tendency to head straight for worst-case scenarios which most of the time, are far from reality. I find when people begin exposing what makes them anxious about retirement and progressively talk openly with those they trust, practical habits are started and forged. Stress is reduced. Make a list of what you fear the most about saving for and living in retirement. Move one rock at a time. Work with a financial professional to create a goals-based, fear-minimizing game plan.

Focus on what weighs heavy on your retirement budget. For the majority of people I counsel, fixed expenses are like boulders which press hard on their abilities to enjoy retirement. I’m not going to make it sound easy to lighten up. It isn’t. It takes some tough decisions. It could mean selling a family homestead to downsize, taking inventory of material possessions to gift, sell or donate.

My greatest friend, mentor and best-selling author James Altucher and his wife Claudia recently dug through and discarded almost every physical item they own – family photos, furniture, clothing. Rows of green plastic garbage bags out to the curb for trash pickup (I saw the photos). Ok, I’m not advising to go to this extreme: I was shocked myself. However, the lesson here is to devise a strategy that works for you to minimize overhead expenses; a liquidation and downsizing mindset is empowering. It allows you to take great control over cash flow, relieves the pressure of big fixed costs throughout retirement.

Move mental rocks and check on things. Let’s face it: Many people think of their company retirement plans as dark, mysterious holes. They may salary defer the maximum contribution yet still have little knowledge about available investment choices, how money is currently allocated or they fail to rebalance holdings on a scheduled basis. In other words, to be an active saver is admirable however, once earnings are syphoned into retirement plans, many of us grow passive about digging into them and shifting the location of financial treasure. The money is buried so deep under the rock, it’s forgotten. It might as well be lost.

A company retirement account is most likely your greatest liquid asset, so it makes sense to check on its progress. Make a point to dig under the surface at least annually. Compare your current allocations to choices provided by your employer and examine how investments are divided. Sell down what’s done the best and reallocate proceeds into underperforming asset classes.

For example, in 2014 U.S. or domestic-based large-company stocks and bonds were outperformers. The majority of financial “pundits” were touting how in 2015, domestic-based stocks would continue a winning run. So far, it’s apparent that international stocks are improving due to favorable valuations and aggressive action by the European Central Bank to purchase bonds, much like our Federal Reserve has done in the past.

Get your hands dirty and expose yourself to uncomfortable conditions. I partner with several retirees who refuse to undertake actions that temporarily feel unpleasant. For a few, avoiding proper estate planning (who really wants to deal with their own mortality?), failing to embrace healthy lifestyle choices like annual health physicals, and transferring potential devastating financial risks though the use of insurance, has led to family stress and negative outcomes for retirement portfolios.

A roadmap based on maintenance of health, proper estate planning and use of insurance where it’s needed, can make a tremendous positive impact on the quality of retirement.

Through the years, this gentleman who learned so much from rocks and dirt as a child, started to understand how keeping the location of his buried treasure so secret, was not such a terrific idea. He began to comprehend how secrecy may lead to great loss. He has a trusted partner, his wife, who keeps him accountable for fitness goals, regular meetings with his financial advisor (me), his board-certified estate planner and a physician for annual head-to-toe checkups.

Recently, one of his grandsons, knowing the well-told story of the rocks, began to do some digging at the same location near the homestead (still in the family). After months of work he unearthed a plastic bag. In it was a 1955 Topps Baseball Box made of tin with 10 trading cards inside including one of legendary player Ernie Banks.

There are lessons right in front of all of us. Some we can trip over (literally).

If we dig deep and often, potential dangers can be uncovered, avoided; treasures can be revealed.

The graveled road of retirement can be a blessing or a curse.

A lesson is to unearth early on what concerns you the most and expose them to bright lights from trusted professionals and loved ones.

Your retirement path will be a challenge, but like a rock, you can weather it and remain structurally intact for decades.

And keep rolling…

rolling rock

 

 

What I Learned From My Teen Daughter’s First Job.

Featured

As featured in MarketWatch (well, not this “bluer” version). 

My daughter at 16 decided she wanted a part-time job. This isn’t a topic we discussed in the past so it made me curious as to her motivations.

A new adventure for daughter.

Self-reflection for dad.

Shit, I’m getting old.

There’s a comforting thought.

dad grave

I recalled my first job delivering “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” The Daily News, at 14 years-old. The route was one of the largest in my Brooklyn neighborhood. The lessons were indispensable and are still with me today.

Selling, customer service, handling complaints, the discipline to wake before 5am including weekends, to make sure papers were delivered before morning coffee, and the financial reward I earned sacrificing hours of my weekend to collect payment from subscribers. It was a challenge, yet I remember how the job fostered feelings of well-being through a rough childhood.

paper boy

I asked people face-to-face and through social media about their first jobs as teenagers.

The positive responses were overwhelming. People couldn’t wait to share. The exhilaration was contagious. Many were vocal about how the qualities they developed working as teens, were unequivocally linked to prosperity, financial and otherwise, as adults.

So, you have a teen child or grandchild who wants to work.

It’s a bittersweet moment. You’re proud; yet there’s something strangely sad about the milestone. Perhaps your teen is embracing maturity with gusto, motivated to take on new responsibilities and taking a big step to adulthood, to independence, which makes you feel vulnerable, uncomfortable.

Yea, old.

Ok, those were my issues.

As the dust settled it was down to a stack of employer paperwork; decisions needed to be made about take-home pay (you mean I can’t spend it all?). It was a chance to work closely together and set the foundation for financial strategies that would last a daughter’s lifetime.

What did we do?

What can you try?

Random Thoughts.

Celebrate the transition from payout to paycheck. Most likely, there’s been a long-standing allowance agreement at home. Sure, you taught the basics of save, share and spend early on, helping your child formulate a simple yet impressionable strategy of monetary discipline. It’s time to re-visit the discussion. The anticipation of sweat equity adds another dimension to save, share and spend.

We had a “big picture” talk, exploring options on how to allocate her take-home pay. I was there for the genesis of her financial philosophies. What an honor. My daughter’s respect for money she would soon earn was a welcomed surprise. I never was privy to this side of her. I wanted to celebrate this accomplishment; we selected an informal setting – it comfortable for her to share deeper thoughts around save, share and spend. I sought to guide the conversation, provide reinforcement for good ideas and create positive memories around how dad was proud of her transition from payout to paycheck.

Initiate the “Level 2, Triple S” protocol. My daughter thought I was referring to a new superhero (she knows what a big Marvel fan I am). No, it’s how save, share and spend grow super in proportion. It’s the “Triple S, Level 2” rite of passage. As a child, allocating an allowance or cash for chores, was important. With a job, parents and kids make allocation decisions with greater impact.

Oh, there’s another interested party looking to share in your child’s success: It’s the IRS and taxes are now a consideration. As an employee, your child will be asked to complete a W4 form to indicate the correct amount of tax to be withheld from each paycheck. For 2015, a dependent youth doesn’t require a tax return filed if earnings do not exceed $6,300, the standard deduction amount. In our case, we felt comfortable writing “EXEMPT” on line 7 of the W4; as a dependent she will most likely not exceed $6,000 in earnings for 2015. If you believe your teen will earn more than the standard deduction, then enter 1 on Line B of the form.

Begin a Custodial Roth IRA. Working leads to new investment vehicle opportunities. We plan to fund a Custodial Roth IRA and have decided on a savings allocation of 30% each pay period to be directed into the Roth as a contribution. For 2015, the maximum that can be placed in an IRA is $5,500. Even invested conservatively, the $1,500 we plan to deposit, compounded annually at 4%  has the potential to be worth over $11,000 tax-free when my teen reaches 67 years-old. Time is her greatest ally and part-time employment provides the opportunity to jumpstart her full-time retirement.

Start a cash-flow discovery exercise. As my girl has more money to spend, we plan to emphasize budgeting. It’s crucial she maximizes what’s left of her paycheck after taxes and savings. My daughter’s two biggest expenses – clothing and music downloads will be monitored using a free Smartphone budgeting application she selected.

Set aside 20 minutes each weekend to complete a “cash flow discovery” exercise to review expenditures. After all, having a pay check is exciting. Some kids get carried away and go through what I call an “independence splurge” where spending increases along with the first paychecks. Ironically, I’ve observed most of the spending is done at a teen’s place of employment as employer discounts are considered a “benefit.”

As a parent or grandparent, what have you lost and found again? At the celebration, I shared my early work memories good and bad. I opened up about the time I got fired from Stern’s Department Store. Not my proudest moment. My teen helps me re-live the best of my work habits and reminds me of why I’ve been motivated to succeed for so many years.

And teens?

Your family finds your initiative admirable; also, they’re observing how you handle multiple responsibilities outside of home and school.

Your work efforts are forging their confidence in you to handle future fiscal responsibilities.

The disciplines that begin as a working teen will sharpen and live on in you for many generations.

The financial seeds planted today have the potential to grow large.

And you just may need to take care of dad’s adult diaper bill.

Be prepared.

guy in diaper

 

 

Living Lessons From Dead Kittens.

Featured

Kittens were flying.

flying Kittens

Not in the joyful verse of a storybook tale read aloud to wind down the kids before sleep.

Distant from a place of precious fluff balls, gossamer wings; where white feathers lullaby children.

Just the opposite.

This memory jumps right from the pages of a magazine I loved almost as much as Mad.

Terror Tales.

terror tales

Bone-chilling cries.

A skyscraper wall of piercing sound – decibels of feline sirens carried three city-blocks deep, two buildings high.

I remember. Straight up at 2:10am, my nightmares, which are frequent due to a three-year horrific fight with a former employer, increasingly begin with flying, howling kittens. Fur matted in life fluids. The more kittens, the stronger the images, the stronger I cold-sweat the bed.

1975 – Drowned out pop melodies of summer booming from open windows; 70’s tunes played from Panasonic hand held radios from behind shadows, dingy shades that framed pre-WW2 tenement pane glass.

“Brandy, you’re a fine girl…”

City traffic fumes rise high and hang heavy in humidity. Inhaling them is a compromise. A choice to swelter through a New York August behind closed windows, or fool yourself into believing a blast furnace of urban air is a refreshing alternative.

I enjoyed the confluence of odors; after years they smelled like home – auto exhaust, hot tar, ethnic cooking; easier on eyes and nostrils compared to the rank of cigarettes and beer that destroyed oxygen within our small apartment.

I swear the lead-based wall paint would emit a strange odor when the worst of summer heat arrived. The walls were coated in poison. I was doomed. At night, I’d dream how the shiny white lead chips that always pooled at the baseboards, would come alive, enter my bed and eat my skin. I didn’t sleep much as a kid.

“What a good wife you would be…”

The strong signal from Music Radio 77 WABC-AM drowned out. Harry Harrison’s legendary airwave trademark phrases fade to black; overwhelmed by shrill feline vocal daggers which ricocheted off concrete, found its human auditory target, and penetrated my skull.

Urban dwellers fortunate enough to enjoy white noise and chilled air of window air-conditioning units were spared of the sounds of people living and dying in a restless city.

window AC

I hated them; all comfortable in their icy luxury.

And there was the laughter.

It was out of place. Insane.

No way in hell should giggling immediately shadow the screams. Horror squares in happy round holes just don’t fit. In psycho movies – sure, but not real life.

I approached the red brick and banged-up aluminum doors of single-car garages in rows that bordered the Brooklyn apartment complex I called home. The panic noises I’ll never forget, grew louder. It sounded like babies being tortured. And that disturbing chuckling.

insane laughter

I needed to understand what was happening. My mind screamed “run.” My legs moved ahead. Faster than the upper part of my body. Labored but steadily onward.

I was close enough to observe three pre-teen boys on a garage roof. A kitten in each hand; six small lives gripped by the mid-section, writhing desperately to break free.

The ringleader of the demon trio, I recognized immediately. That ruddy complexion, dark eyes closer to his ears than the middle of his face, the unkempt hair. No surprise it was the neighborhood terrorist, a bully to all: V. He made so much of an impression on me that today all bullies I encounter lose their identities and take on bloated, blotchy Vinny face.

He and two other soulless boys in unison were raising helpless animals above their heads and like taking jump shots with basketballs, were propelling tiny bodies into the air. I took solace in the fact that cats land on their paws. I imagined them a bit shaken, possibly injured, but still able to flee from the scene quicker than these pudgy kids could catch them.

Wishful thinking.

It was a cowardly method for a frightened brain to work through the disgusting activity unfolding before my eyes. I despised the fear that gripped me more than I hated the thugs.

Deep breaths.

I felt my speeding heart squeeze through the veins inside my ears; t temporarily blocked all other input. I needed to see the kittens. In my head, I was already cycling through save-and-escape plans; my goal was to grab as many of the injured I could carry and then run like the wind. Anywhere. Just away. How can I get this done without getting my ass kicked?

I couldn’t move faster. I tried.  I was disappointed by sludgy footfalls. As I turned the corner, as I came upon the asphalt alley between long rows of garage doors, there stood a fourth culprit.

I was shocked to see a thug at ground level. Right below where the three other boys were up and into the driveway.

I didn’t recognize number four; I thought I knew all the assholes in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

Tall, sinewy. I remember the definition in his biceps that popped his veins.

A devil in red Ked sneakers.

Kitten three released – fly in the sky.

Damn the fate of gravity.

Tiny legs, paws flailing.

I was far enough from the action remain noticed but close enough to take in the fiendish plan unfolding.

Red Ked gripped a wooden bat.

In a pro-baseball player stance, he swung with full force at kittens “pitched” to him from 8 feet above.

bloddy bat

The home run kitten-head balls were the worst.

There was living sound one second, deadly silence the next. Mid scream. Then nothing.

And again – laughter. The serious side-splitting kind.

The swing-and-miss felines dazed by a rough asphalt landing, failed to hit pavement and flee. They sort of dragged themselves off, walking with an unsteady gait. Definitely not fast enough. Much different than I imagined.

I observed the keen sweat beads on Vinny’s face as he maintained visual contact on the shaky cat balls.

Close to ripe for another pitch.

I prayed for a strike-out afternoon.

I stood unnoticed. In front of a garage – door open. Empty, dark. I sauntered into the black to gather my wits. I needed to think fast. I glanced upon an abandoned tire iron in a back corner. Upright against a cinder block wall, begging me for my attention. Not sure how I noticed it in the darkness but there it was. Calling me.

I grabbed for it hard. I held on to it like it was a lifeguard and I was about to go under for a third time.

As I accepted what I needed to do.

From dark to light.

Firm stride onward.

Closer now to red Keds, I’m able to observe how his sneakers were white at one time. Sick to my stomach. He looked at me then.

I was the next fat pitch.

No matter what I was in a strikeout zone.

No matter what.

Secure in a place where dead kittens don’t interrupt the summer, my life and ultimately my dreams (nightmares).

Looking Glass pop stuck in my head. An endless musical loop that refused to stop.

“He came on a summer’s day. Bringin’ gifts from far away.”

Surprise. Your turn to be the ball, red Keds.

Here’s your gift.

red ked

Random Thoughts.

At one time, any time, you’re at risk of becoming a dead kitten. Something bigger and menacing will swing at you, long to crush your skull, ruin what’s left of your existence.

For three years I’ve been hit repeatedly by a large corporate red Ked, a former employer spinning outright lies, bashing my reputation, attempting to take me out and away from the profession I love.

Oh, I’m staggering, my gait a bit shaky, but I won’t be tossed in front of high-paid legal bullies for another chance at a feeding frenzy. They took much from me, already. Money, family, physical and mental health. But I’m still here. And I have found my weapons.

Ready to strike. My turn to swing.

It’s these incidents, the events that position me next in line behind the next dead kitten, that ultimately define how quickly I escape and survive (thrive). Unfortunately, I know Louisville Sluggers continue to lurk; bullies are like that. Life is good. Then they come out of nowhere just to fuck with you. Dryer lint can catch on fire and take the house down with it. I heard that.

Whatever swings with murder in its eyes, will eventually tire and move on because it can’t kill me. What stays after the hit sharpens my resolve, clarifies me and steels my purpose. And I’m not sure what energy stays exactly, but I’m glad for it. Like a warm, comforting shadow. Bullies and dead kittens show up right before defining moments.

It’s all about tire irons. The strongest arsenal, the most effective weapons I possess reveal themselves deep in black corners. Just when I think I’m a sitting duck, an obliterated feline, I accept and allow what’s about to happen as if I chose it. At that point, I am a clear thinker. A fighter.

Many people look for hope in light. Not sure I get it. I’ve learned that you must venture and stumble through darkness to discover what’s good. The universe reveals itself and nurtures me when I accept my fate and understand deeply that what I’m experiencing, as painful as it may be, needed to occur.

It couldn’t have happened any other way.

Looking back, those challenging episodes have formed a perspective I’ve used to help others make their way through red Ked moments.

Death is only the beginning. A music legend once told me that death is only the beginning. Near death, too. And before he passed, he told me again. I’m thinking in life we face several deaths. Illness, divorce, loss of inner circle relationships. And the beat goes on. Then stops. Then continues. The beating is the same, the sound is different.

Before nightfall I sit in the backyard, my dog Rosie next to me. I ponder who and what I lost up to then. I sort of feel like Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather III. Alone. Thinking in my last scene I should fall out of my chair. Dead. Rosie’s hot breath yapping in my cold face.

What an embarrassing way to go for Michael.

dead michael

Except I don’t drop. I’m fortunate to remember that with each liability, every loss, I gain a greater asset.

And I’m at peace. Finally.

Dead kittens are also dead presidents. How many times have I bloodied my net worth with a bat? Oh, many. I’ve loaned money to relatives who didn’t care if my credit went bust (never again), I worked for one of the worst penny stock chop shops and had my father purchase stock I knew would go bust (sorry dad), just to collect a commission, I have over-purchased shit I didn’t need, spent extravagantly at restaurants, too much wine. All dead money that taught me valuable living lessons.

“Hey asshole, what do you think you’re going to do with that thing?”

And as kittens were falling, I kicked red Ked in the shin. Before another word, he went down. I remember one furball jump in panic over his face, her back paws scratching deep into red Ked forehead (score).

I then slammed the iron down hard on his right shoulder.

RK lost his grip on the bat.

I wanted to hit him again.

I wanted him dead.

For all the kittens.

Past, present and future.

I grabbed his weapon and ran.

Directly to my Cousin Louis’ apartment 9 blocks away. He was NYPD. Built like Sly Stallone.

When I’m asleep and I see dead kittens, I know something big and life-changing is clawing at me.

Another lesson up at bat.

From the blood.

The music plays in my head.

And they disappear.

At least for now.

I hit the snooze.

“I know what you look like and I’ll see you before long.”

Ben Nichols.

This Old Death.

kittens with angel wings

An Extended Warranty: Do You Really Need One?

Featured

As featured in USA Today for NerdWallet. 

It seems you can’t buy anything without escaping that awkward encounter just when you think your transaction is concluded.

“You can buy an extended warranty for an additional ____ dollars. Wouldn’t you like to protect your purchase?”

It feels like a wallet violation.

At least buy me dinner first.

It’s enough to keep me out of brick & mortar stores forever.

cash register

I’m not sure why I consistently feel bad saying no, and I teach financial discipline for a living. I want to feel good about what I spend money on, not guilty. It feels wrong to leave my purchase exposed to who knows what. Most of the time I politely say no and quickly move on.

Extended warranties have become a profit center for businesses, especially retailers. The peace of mind can be costly. For example, on average, an extended warranty can add an additional 10% to 25% to the purchase price of an item. There’s no doubt they’re considered a formidable driver of revenue.

When you think of the most common extended warranty, you may think of those for cars. However, they’re now offered on almost every consumer durable you buy. Recently, a good friend was offered an extended warranty for $14 on a $75 football from a national sporting goods chain. Of course he was wise enough to turn it down.

So, how do you determine when it’s smart to consider an extended warranty?

1. If replacing the item would lead to financial strain, transfer the risk.

Regardless of the cost of the product or service, an extended warranty should be considered if repairs or replacement could drain emergency cash reserves or increase your credit card debt. You don’t need to decide on an extended warranty right away. You’ll have a period of time, usually 30 days from the date of the transaction, to add coverage. Review what is covered under the standard warranty; for example, most services and goods will carry some form of protection or replacement for at least a year. If a major repair or replacement has the potential to place your household balance sheet in jeopardy, then it makes sense to transfer the risk to the manufacturer and pay for protection.

2. The bigger the purchase, the greater the consideration.

Durable goods like refrigerators, televisions, dishwashers, washers and dryers all come with standard warranties. Extended protection may not be required, as these items don’t break down frequently. However, before you say no, it’s best to investigate objective sources for repair histories for brands you’re seeking to purchase. Examine ratings on a website like www.consumerreports.org. Rarely do durables break down during the warranty period, according to Consumer Reports.

3. Forget the warranty; remember your savings account.

Instead of a warranty, consider directing money you would have spent into your emergency savings or money market account. Think of it as a cash bolster to handle repairs. In the case of a $250 warranty, add $21 a month to your budget.

4. Don’t get caught in the moment.

You may think that spending an additional 10% to 25% is no big deal after spending hundreds of dollars on something you want. Your brain will consider the purchase of an extended warranty small when compared to the greater cost of the item. As consumers we have a difficult time maintaining a rational head when it comes to additional expenditures for big purchases. Take time to step back and weigh the pros and cons. Examine the extended coverage as a stand-alone expense and the odds of using it.

5. Buy with your weaknesses in mind.

I purchase extended warranties for all portable electronics including laptops and smartphones if they cover accidental damage. I know my weaknesses; I tend to be clumsy with computers and cellphones. Make sure to examine how many instances are covered (plans will have limits) and the specifics for accident coverage. Understand your faults and use extended warranties when it protects your purchases against them.

6. How much is that item used?

Extended warranties can be useful for durable used items like automobiles and appliances. To cover your automobile, compare the costs of a dealer warranty to an independent organization like www.carchex.com, which offers several tiers of coverage (Titanium being the most inclusive). Home warranties that cover aging heating and air-conditioning systems can be worth the cost. It’s important to understand that standard maintenance is not included nor is full replacement. However, to keep appliances in operation longer and avoid the potential of frequent costly repairs, the expense of an extended warranty should be investigated.

7. Sometimes, extended warranties just don’t make sense.

Like my friend who was offered an extended warranty to protect against a flattened football, there are occasions when you’ll wonder how retailers have the nerve to sell coverage. If the purchase is $100 or less, take the chance with the manufacturer’s warranty and don’t worry about paying for an extended agreement.

In the frenzy of shopping, it’s easy to relent and say yes to aggressive salespeople.

When it comes to extended warranty purchases, don’t rush. Make the decision after reviewing the facts in the comfort of home, not in a pressured situation like checking out at a register with a line of shoppers behind you.

Many believe that extended warranties provide peace of mind.

How much is peace of mind truly costing you?

 

Going “Double-Zero” – Five Steps To Greater Happiness & Wealth.

Featured

I remember her.

How she looked then.

this is 1972

Funny.

It took me almost as long to write this blog post; the lingering sorrow of inner-circle loss is torpor for the soul. I never get used to it no matter how many times people depart on their own or I’m motivated to head out of Dodge.

Writing about this topic resurrects mourning and at the same time, casts a different light on tenebrous memories. Surrounded by the spirits of those who are gone steels my judgment, sharpens my perspective and allows me to effectively face my own weaknesses and all-too humanity.

Human losses define my Phase 2; the new, improved and clear headed iteration of me. Sharp edges cut clean to acceptance. Free of shackles.

All human connections good or bad, add richness to life. Although the bad ones fill volumes of lesson books with razor-bladed pages. Bleed and turn, bleed more.

Healthy relationships that turn black are worse.

cancer cells

Unfortunately, life suspended in a cancerous relationship soup, sucks away enough energy to prevent the spirit from moving on, growing. Self-worth fades to the grated pallor of steel. Perspective flash freezes like moisture in a high mid-winter sky.

You’re heavy, stuck and falling.

But there’s only so much pain a person can take. Everybody has a trigger, a breaking point. Something happens that jolts an awakening. Could be as subtle as a recurring, inner whisper. A word. An action. Or as dramatic as a crash and burn (I’m Italian; we add drama to our rigatoni).

By the time that happens, healing has begun. Before you know it the circle will begin again. A new connection, a stronger chain, a weaker link. The leaded steamroller of life moves forward – flesh, blood and emotions in its wake.

I look up to the clouds often. I breathe in the vast universe to revitalize my small world. Let’s say I focus higher to stay closer to the ground, especially when I lose those I care about.

In the past, blinded by my ego and overtaken by the egos of others, the sky meant nothing. Looking back, I’m not sure what happened to replenish my appreciation of simple things. It’s all a big blur. Ironically, I’m grateful how I mistakenly granted admittance to my inner circle to the wrong people, organizations and feelings because they all lead me to where I am today.

The friendship that began in 1972, between T and me, has created several of my deepest pauses of reflection. Months, years, years beyond years do that.

She was my dearest crush in fourth grade. I awkwardly stumbled through many juvenile affairs of the heart then – most of them hidden behind painful shyness, a lack of self-confidence driven by sappy daydreams of holding hands walking home from school.

On Friday nights, I pounded away – creating love notes on a baby-blue & white typewriter to school girls who would never care to read them. I barely recall their names but I never forget hers.

Rosso typewriter

She filtered simple, daily life experiences through a happiness prism which I found interesting at such a young age. I was an eternal fatalist. I saw the worst in everything first. I went directly to the worst-case scenario.

T was diplomatic to a fault. I was jealous of her consistently positive (occasionally cloying) perceptions of the world around her. Even when diagnosed with advanced breast cancer that upbeat perspective rarely waned. I waned. When she told me, all I had for her was silence.

“Hey, I’m not dead, yet.”

I admired her nature. She was restive, I was restless. She was a healthy distraction from my parent’s invidious marriage. Everybody wanted to be her friend.

I wouldn’t call T a frequent gambler although she had a strange passion for roulette. That’s it. Roulette. When I was 14 my parents bought me a roulette set (made by Kenner Toys, I think) for Christmas. We spun the silver disc inside that black, plastic wheel for hours. The thrill of hitting chosen numbers or black or red captured our attention.

The excitement was greater for T as she consistently played zero or double-zero. It was the deep green color that stood out in a sea of dark on a felt “table.” It felt different for her. She basked in the beauty of rare moments (like hitting the zeroes). Every time she hit it, which seemed often, I would get pissed off.

Personally, I rarely played the green zone. I think the odds of hitting zero or double-zero are like a bazillion to ten. I sought stronger probabilities.

Not T.

“I like the feeling I get when I hit double-zero.”

I so wanted a to feel like that look on T’s face when that little silver ball hit 00. Or when she beat breast cancer the first time in 1994. That smile. Post-brace face. Unforgettable. A grin born from the positive attitude which defined every part of her.

I asked her why and how she believed the impossible was possible.

She said – “because I make room for it.”

That was it.

She made room: In other words, there was a place in T’s mind and heart that created space for the impossible to be possible.

Her life was defined by double-zero.

double zero wheel

Making room.

So in honor of T’s life and eternal life, I made it my mission to make room.

Go double-zero.

I started finding and cutting away my definition of cancer: Connections with people who drained my energy, fed off anger and frankly no longer fit into the positive life I was finally beginning to cultivate.

It’s not that they were bad; just bad for me.

I began to understand what she had been trying to tell me for decades.

And now, so should you.

Random Thoughts:

1). Double-zero creates space to breathe. It redefines the sky you’ve ignored. It allows you to fill your present with positive people and increased productivity as mental fatigue diminishes.

2). With double-zero you land less on black. There’s white space created for activities that fill in the hole. Great room to undertake those projects which fulfill you. The more you hit on 00, the faster your spin lands on inner peace. And it happens more often than it could in Roulette.

3). Double-zero is a clean slate. You’re open to new lessons; it’s a creator of second chances. The rebirth of a stronger inner circle.

4). Double-zero is not just a burning bridge. It’s using the intense light and heat from the fire to blind you from who and what you removed. It’s scorched earth. It’s the adult version of “you’re dead to me.” It’s cutting out, going cold turkey on cancerous people, situations, subjects, so you can live. No. Thrive. Never go back. Once you hit 00, take your sanity and cash out.

Double-zero isn’t forgiveness. Oh no. It’s inflamed forbearance. An internal act of defiance that transmits a clear, outward message to those who are unethical, untrustworthy and unwilling to to exhibit loyalties to love, silence, commitment and grace.

5). Someone is about to 00 you. Be ready. We have all been and will continue to be double-zeroed by others. It’s OK. Time to self-reflect. Most likely, you initiated 00, motivated the spin. Own it, burn it, move on.

Naturally, T would say I’m perceiving double-zero all wrong.

Damn my negativity.

negativity

Here are additional random thoughts T would place a stamp of approval on if she could.

 A). Double-zero is making that call you’re hesitant to make. The one that makes you a target, open to hurt. Vulnerable. It’s also the one that may positively change your life forever.

B). Double-zero is a complete awareness of who you are. And the great value you bring to the table. It’s destroying what society tells you is success and re-defining it outside the cubicle, middle management and others who “just don’t get you.”

C). Double-zero fuels you to fight another day. Positive energy is contagious. You’ll attract light, warmth and peace. Over time, you’ll be addicted to 00. Odds will be in your favor.

D). Double-zero is making radical changes to your finances. It’s shrinking to grow. It’s working on taking more in and having less go out. It’s freedom from debilitating debts to pursue what you love, not what you do to pay a big mortgage.

E). Double-zero is taking a stand. Recognizing and believing in the possibilities which can come from saying no more often, pursuing interests that fulfill your soul and again, cutting deep and away from all who choke off positive flow. You’ll look up at the sky more often.

Teresa, if your energy is still here, if your afterburn is around me – I feel it.

Thank you.

Rest well.

In your death, I found a secret of a life.

And I think others will, too.

 

 

 

Three Money & Life Lessons From “The Interview.”

Featured

Before I continue, please note I refuse to (can’t) compare Franco & Rogen to Abbott & Costello.

Somebody I know just did that.

I can’t go there.

Readers are going: “Who is Abbott & Costello?”

SMH.

abbott and costello

I’m a firm believer there’s a lesson in everything. If my focus on the present is effective and I practice stillness in the manner of a Tolle master, i can learn from staring at a rock. No, seriously.

The movie  “The Interview,” which doesn’t star the beloved comedy duo of the 1940’s of course, has been a tremendous center of attention due to a hacking of Sony Pictures (allegedly, I’m still not buying it,) by get this – NORTH KOREA.

Wait: A country where blind hair stylists can make a “living” is smart enough to hack SONY Pictures and threaten us?

Tell me another one.

north kprea Who gets a haircut like this?

Now everybody needs to see this film. Even people who insisted they wouldn’t sit through this mindless nonsense are doing it “for freedom,” as it now represents our “God-given” right. They’re drawing a line in the sand. Don’t get me wrong,  I’m sure the flick is funny, however, it’s not like taking up arms at The Alamo.

C’mon, people.

davy crockett I shall die for Rogen & Franco,” Davy Crockett.

I give up.

I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

I love you guys!!

rogen and franco

I’m getting messages in my head (about money) from the hacking incident. Perhaps the stylist at SuperCuts was trying to do a North Korean Coiffure mind meld on me. Hmm.

Random Thoughts:

1). Decisions about money aren’t easy. Don’t kid yourself and don’t have financial pros make it sound easy (most of them are in debt like you). Money decisions are tougher than deciding to release a dopey movie after a hack and a threat of global annihilation. Money emotions flow deeper than the ink in your paper currency. Selling stocks to take profits, saving money is a big chore (especially since your wages rival a North Korean Palace toilet scrubber since 2009,) identifying your money weaknesses and working to change them, taking losses for the stock “dogs” you’ve held for a decade.

However, to be successful, you need to buy the ticket to greater wealth whatever that means to you. It could be $10,000 or $10,000,000, or being debt-free outside of the mortgage. Take a stand for more money in your pocket. A small step is still a step and it should be celebrated. Even more so than some dumbass movie.

Can you imagine the conversation between Sony pictures CEO Michael Lynton and Obama?

“I tried calling you.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I would have heard the phone.”

“Well, I tried.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t believe you didn’t hear the phone.”

“Michelle was talking to me.”

“Oh, now you’re blaming your wife?”

“No, it’s just a fact.”

“And how do you not know James Franco, you live in a hole?”

“I’m busy doing president stuff.”

“Like messing up names on TV?”

“That’s not nice.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t call Sony, Sunni.”

“That’s crossing the line, movie boy.”

“We make good movies. Things blow up and shit.”

“That’s not real.”

“I just want to get this damn movie in the theatres, can I do it?”

“Which one?”

“The Interview. GOD.”

“Just for that I’m going to tell you I think Ben Aflac would be a better James Bond.”

“It’s Ben AFFLECK and NO!…Are we good here? Megan Fox wants to re-make The Sugarland Express and she’s eating all the donuts in the commissary.”

“I wouldn’t want your job.”

“No shit.”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Happy holidays.”

“Oh, now we’re going to have this fight, huh??”

No, really. The NSA has all this.

2). Prepare for surprises. So, the car broke down, you got hit on the interstate, broke a leg. Died. Your farce film got the attention of a dictator. Whatever. A key to wealth is to anticipate the unanticipated. Make sure you have 3-6 months of living expenses in an emergency cash reserve, have enough life insurance to cover the family; you signed up for long-term disability coverage at work, the beneficiaries on retirement accounts are updated, you maintain expensive durables so they last longer (when was your last oil change?). You get the picture. Can you think of other surprises, outliers, “black swans” that can devastate your finances?

3). Know your enemies. Know your financial enemies. They’re all around you. Look in the mirror. Can they become your greatest allies? For Sony, overwhelming public attention will probably generate 1,000x the ticket sales for “The Interview.”

For example, I no longer hang out with people who skip out on financial obligations. Why be around those with horrible money habits? You know them. Stay away. Can you learn from the money mistakes you’ve made, others have made? My parents were the worst with money and both died in debt with the IRS knocking on my door. I’m the opposite. I learned that disrespecting money was not part of the egg and sperm union. Bad enough I have drug and alcohol abuse, depression and lunacy in my family. I didn’t need to inherit an insane money imprint, too.

So, today’s the Friday after Christmas.

I think I’ll head to the movies.

“Unbroken” sounds good.

unbroken

 

Five Money Lessons Straight from the Frown of Grumpy Cat.

Featured

Oh c’mon – You know Grumpy Cat.

You live in a hole? GOOD. Stay there.

That’s just something Grumpy would lament.

grumpy cat - floating

The “lovably hate-able” feline with the permanent scowl on her face due to a physical shortcoming, an underbite, has been an internet smash and much, much more.

Grumpy aka “Tardar Sauce” became a meme a couple of years ago and gained worldwide popularity by well, being grumpy and commenting  a straightforward “NO” to everything (and I mean everything), in sight.

Grumpy Cat isn’t just famous worldwide; she’s also a money maker.

Grumpy Cat Saving Money

 

Grumpy has brought in an astounding $100 million in revenue from merchandise (Grumpy has her own coffee – Grumppuccino), appearances, television shows.

Why is she so popular?

Perhaps Grumpy says no to all the things we wish we could. We like her spirit – she’s got spunk!

Yes, she’s cute too.

grumpy cat - so cute disgusting

I began to think about how Grumpy can help us improve our finances.

Can we learn from this irascible cat?

I think so.

Random Thoughts (Oh, this crap again?)

1). Understand your true money personality. Grumpy is finest when telling it “like it is.” The people who are good with money work with professionals to understand and minimize their money weaknesses and expand on their strengths. If you’re an over spender, admit it.  Make small changes that can lead to big results.

2). Debt can be irritating. If total monthly debt (including mortgage) exceeds 32% of your monthly gross income, then 2015 is a good time to knock 2% off. One improvement you can make right away is to cut your holiday gift budget by 10%. The last week of December total how much you spent for gifts this year and work to come in 10% less next year. Less debt means less grumpy. Use your debit card and cash more than credit, next year.

3). Saying “no” more often can lead to wealth. We all know Grumpy’s favorite answer to everything is always a resounding “NO.” Identify the ways saying “YES” hurt you, financially. For example, say “NO” to lending money to friends and family. As the economy improves, 2015 is the year to say “YES” to a new job. How do you know what your skills command in an improving marketplace? Get your resume together; keep your eyes open for opportunities to expand your paycheck.

4). Get unimpressed with things that can separate you from your cash. It takes quite a bit to impress Grumpy Cat. She’s always seeking to be unimpressed with well, everything. Do you really need to spend on the latest technology or smartphone or can it wait? If you’re looking to make a large purchase don’t be swayed by savvy sales pitches. Wait two weeks before you buy any item that costs more than $50. See if you can live without it. You may be surprised to discover that you’re unimpressed too and don’t need to spend the cash.

5). It’s ok not to care about what your neighbor is buying. I can picture Grumpy Cat staring out the front window of her home, saying no to new cars, new furniture and other stuff she doesn’t need because one thing we know about Grumpy: She just doesn’t care. Perhaps you care too much about impressing others and it’s costing you in the form of excessive credit card interest rate fees by spending more than you earn.

So, we all can’t be worth millions like Grumpy Cat.

That’s fine.

However, the characteristics that make her appealing are contagious.

Having a little Grumpy Cat inside can make us smarter with money decisions.

And that’s a “YES,” any day.

Aren’t you glad?

Grumpy Cat - happy I don't care

 

 

Five Financial Sanctuaries that Place your Retirement in Jeopardy.

Featured

Originally appeared in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

In the AMC smash-hit television drama “The Walking Dead,” a group of road-hardened survivors of a zombie apocalypse seek protection from the undead (and the living who pose greater dangers than cannibalistic walking corpses.)

The fifth-season opener finds the weary characters fighting for their lives against a community of cannibals who lured them to a so-called safe zone called “Terminus.”

terminus

Handwritten signs and maps along roads and rails of rural Georgia guided the crew to a final destination, sanctuary was promised for all who arrived.

Sanctuary

On the surface, it appeared to be a dream come true. Warm smiles, comforting words, hot food.

Underneath, Terminus was nothing as promised or perceived. Victims were lured in to be placed in rail cars like cattle and eventually slaughtered.

rail car

As there is a fine line between fact and fiction, this harrowing situation got me thinking about portfolios in retirement.

 Stay with me.

Think sanctuary and think safety. A false tranquility can disarm and open the gates to great risks without your awareness. What lurks underneath your financial safe havens may eventually place your money and retirement lifestyle in jeopardy.

When making financial decisions and monitoring progress based on those decisions, you need to accept when the environment changes; make a move when safe havens turn to Terminus.

Here are five financial sanctuaries that can place a secure retirement at risk right now.

 Random Thoughts:

1). Stocks. Market sanctuaries can turn unrecognizable and hostile very fast. As the stock market reaches new highs there’s an ominous feeling of complacency among investors. It’s been over three years since the S&P 500 hit an official correction or greater than a 10% drop from a previous closing high.

Consider October’s volatility a wake-up call as early in the month, the S&P 500 was rapidly moving into correction, small-company stocks and international stocks were officially there and bond yields moved lower (100% of economists predicted that bond yields would be higher by fourth quarter 2014). October concluded much different than it started – with domestic markets headed to new highs.

Underneath the surface of stocks it looks nothing like a sanctuary – Large and mega-cap indexes have outperformed, a sign of a late-stage bull market phase, small-company stocks are recovering but underperforming, which points to risk abatement. It shouldn’t be ignored how cyclical stocks like energy, or those considered beneficiaries of economic expansion, are lagging defensive stocks (think utilities, consumer staples), currently. The outperformance in defensive sectors is usually indicative of market tops and economic peaks.

The Federal Reserve’s conclusion of quantitative easing  (bond purchase) program in October signifies a reduction of central bank liquidity that can increase volatility as investors and traders seek to figure out what the next tailwind for stocks is going to be.

The S&P 500 is 24.5% above its three-year moving average (36 months) -one of the widest dispersions from the moving average since fourth quarter 2007. Like a rubber band, over time market returns will stretch far above and below long-term moving averages. Although it’s impossible to know when the band will snap back to the moving average, historical downside going back to 2000 shows when the market does contract, the process is damaging. The worst contractions were 38% and 40% in 2002 and 2009, respectively.

Stocks are protection against inflation until they’re not and you’ve lost 5 years making back what you lost and inflation becomes the least of your problems. By then, you’ll feel trapped and look to re-pave the path of retirement. Whether it’s returning to work, reducing household expenses, cutting how much you withdraw from investment accounts – you’ll be prepared to do whatever’s necessary to preserve capital and slow the bleeding of investment assets.

Create an allocation to stocks that won’t cause you to panic when the bear market arrives (and it will). Don’t be overconfident. Remain vigilant and make sure to follow rules-based rebalancing where you trim gains on a periodic basis. The fourth quarter of the year is a good time to tax harvest – sell positions with capital losses in brokerage accounts to offset capital gains.

2). Index funds. It appears that index fund enthusiasts will stand strong and proudly absorb the blow as their stock sanctuary turns against them. Indexers believe that losses are temporary because in the long-term, stock markets always recover; paper losses aren’t real, they’re perceived as a bump along the path, par for the course. Like the befallen travelers who arrive at Terminus, they are not in touch with the reality of the situation they’re up against.

behead

A sequence of anemic returns or losses in the face of periodic withdrawals can dramatically decrease the longevity of a retirement portfolio. In other words, index funds are no protection against increased drawdown and market risks. At least fees make the losses less painful (or do they?).

The battle among “passive” indexers and “active” fund advocates is growing more heated as the fourth longest bull market in history continues.  I consider most of the discussion noise; the headlines are a distraction from the real perspective investors in retirement should maintain:

No matter what you hear out of most financial professionals, stock index funds are not passive. Every investment should be treated as active as soon as it is added to a portfolio.

Look beyond the attributes of stock index funds (and there are quite a few) like low fees, wide industry and company representation, tax efficiencies, and face the traps that will eventually put you in a position to fight or perish.

For example, index funds will experience the full brunt of a bear market attack (because generally they represent the market) which means you as the manager must decide the degree of loss you’re willing to accept. Staying invested is an action; reducing exposure to a losing index investment is an active decision. You are always in control, you always have a choice.

The preachers of passive seem willing to stand by and hope for the best. After all, you can’t control or predict the direction markets. That’s true. However, the amount of capital destruction you’re willing to absorb, is in your control. Consider the potential damage and recovery rate. Your back is against the wall. Are you ready to fight? If your portfolio suffers a 20% drawdown you’ll require 33.33% to break even.

Specific purchase and sell rules must be attached to each investment under consideration. Risk management never ensures against all portfolio losses, it minimizes the damage so you can come back and fight another day. It’s all about survival when it comes to the end of world (and your money).

Also, when you invest, depending on stock market valuations, is extremely relevant to future returns.

According to market historian and writer Doug Short, $1,000 invested at the peak of the market in the S&P 500 on March 24, 2000 would be worth $1,248 (adjusted for inflation) as of November 2, 2014, which equates to a 1.53% annualized real return.

Despite the mainstream marketing message (especially among indexers) designed to convince you that “time in the market” is a sanctuary, there have been many periods in history where you simply “ran out of time.” When adjusted for inflation, there are several 20-year periods in history where market returns have resulted in either low or negative outcomes.

Index funds have most likely outperformed your managed investments on the upside during this bull market; that doesn’t mean they’ll hold up better through market declines. And when you buy, based on market price/earnings, has a significant impact on future returns. At nearly 26 times earnings based on the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio, “time in the market” may not be as beneficial over the next 20-years. It just may be a Terminus for your portfolio.

3). Retirement account withdrawals. The 4% withdrawal strategy is too generic to be effective yet it’s treated like a universal rule and preached in mass to new retirees seeking comfort after a long journey of employment. It’s as worn as the warped, wooden signs guiding The Walking Dead survivors to a place they perceive as refuge, but really is a trap.

Based on work by Sam Pittman Ph.D. and Rod Greenshields, CFA of Russell Investments, the first step to creating a retirement withdrawal that protects against longevity risk, is to calculate the ratio of current assets to the present value of forecasted retirement spending. This is called your current funded ratio. It’s a popular method pension administrators use to determine the fiscal health of their expected payouts for participants. Few advisers will consider this method and go straight to a withdrawal rate calculation that doesn’t account for an individual’s overall financial situation or household balance sheet.

The current-funded ratio method requires matching assets to liabilities to determine whether there’s adequate coverage over living expenses and inflation throughout retirement. A ratio of 100% or greater, especially during the first decade of retirement, is indicative of a greater chance of avoiding outliving a nest egg. If the present-value funded ratio is estimated to be less than 100% in ten years, adjustments to withdrawal rates or living expenses can be made before withdrawals occur. The ratio should be calculated every three years or after a sequence of below-average portfolio returns.

The strategy is called adaptive investing. Ask your financial partner about it to see if makes sense as part of your retirement planning process.

4). Company stock concentration at the beginning of retirement. Many retirees are hesitant to manage their net worth tied up in company stock, especially in the early years of retirement. Their human capital may have left the company and enjoyed the retirement party but the emotional attachment to the stock continues strong, and is possibly dangerous.

More than 25% of liquid net worth in company stock, leaves a retiree either “the butcher or the cattle,” a philosophy the tenured residents of Terminus believe. It’s a great tailwind to net worth and retiree psychology when an overconcentration to company stock is performing well hence the butcher. When the investment is performing poorly, a vulnerability to the retirement plan arises which becomes an emotional and financial drain to the retiree and others in the household.

A formal plan should include an exit strategy for company stock within 5 years of retirement. Work down to a 10% allocation which will satisfy your attachment need but won’t derail the early years of retirement. In addition, it can allow you greater diversification potential and liquidity to meet living expenses.

5). Your broker. Someone asked me once – “Are you a broker?” I replied – “No. I’m not here to break anything, I’m here to help.” Joking aside, you may be very comfortable with your current financial relationship; consider if you have an understanding of the motives behind your adviser’s employer. Perhaps you never gave it a thought.

 Ask this question: “What is your sales goal and how do I fit in?”

Yes, most in the financial services business are salespeople. Nothing wrong with it as long as your needs are met and full disclosures are made. However, maybe you’re looking for something more. I believe this question gets to the heart of a financial firm’s true motivation. Then ask: “How do you feel about your sales goals?” Are they perceived as fair by your financial partner? Ask another: “How much time will you spend with me, my planning needs and investment accounts?”

Get specifics. Ponder the answers, then consider: Are you a one-time sale or an ongoing relationship, or a bit of both?

In a recent podcast interview with self-help author and investor James Altucher, success coach Anthony Robbins shared candid insights from the experiences writing his new book, “MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.” He explains how the financial system is designed to prosper the needs of shareholders, not investors.  My take: A key is to know what questions to ask and seek answers that are simple and transparent.

“There are 312 names for brokers, today,” Tony mentions. “I’m so supportive of people that are fiduciaries, people that are trained and who are legally required to look out for you. I’m looking for people who are fiduciaries and sophisticated.”

I believe disclosure of sales goals is important. Understanding if your adviser is a fiduciary and focuses on your interests first, or a broker that has his or her employer’s objectives as a primary focus, will help you find the right long-term partner or clarify a relationship you currently enjoy (or question).

The investing climate for retirees can be scarier than fleeing from flesh-eating zombies.

Even worse are times you believe you’re safe; conditions change, you fail to acknowledge the shifting environment or realize that a financial sanctuary has turned hostile.

 It’s always better to be the butcher than the cattle.

butcher or cattle

Perhaps that fiendish Terminus crew were on to something after all.

 

 

 

7 Smart Money Habits For College Freshmen.

Featured

As featured in Nerdwallet & CS Monitor.

There’s a lot of financial temptation surrounding college students: credit card offers, the availability of student loans, the excitement of being on your own and in control of your spending money.

college freshmen

Freshman year can be a whirlwind of activity. But make some time for one more lesson: Form smart money habits. If you give it a little thought now, you can jumpstart a successful long-term relationship with money—and not end up crushed under a mountain of student loan or credit card debt.

The positive habits you set this year will remain with you long after you’ve earned your cap and gown. I’ve coached many students on how to be savvy with their money and maximize the financial potential of the college years. Here are seven of the most successful ideas.

Random Thoughts:

1. Assume one year’s worth of student loan debt and no more. No matter what.

The average student loan is now $33,000, which makes the class of 2014 the most indebted class in history. Do what you can to stick to one year’s worth of debt, even if it means attending a community college first or working for two years before beginning classes.

It’s radical thinking for some; you may believe this suggestion too austere. But the last thing you want is to be saddled with heavy debt burdens. The college graduate unemployment rate is currently 8.5% and the underemployment rate (new grads who are jobless, hunting for employment or working part-time) stands at 16.8%, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

2. Begin a social media strategy.

And I don’t mean Instagram. Using a social media outlet such as LinkedIn, where you can connect to thought leaders, managers and prospective employers, can pay off down the road when you’re job hunting. Post articles daily—three sentences of poignant commentary reflecting your thoughts and a passion to share knowledge. Set a goal of acquiring 600 LinkedIn contacts by the time you graduate.

Drunk on toilet Not a good pic for social media.

Also use your first year as an opportunity to “clean up” personal social media accounts like Facebook, which is increasingly under scrutiny by human resources departments.

3. Watch your credit.

Take out no more than one credit card to obtain and strengthen a credit score. When I was in college, credit card providers were everywhere. I signed up for two cards and needed to work a couple of jobs to pay off the debt. Don’t do it. Based on recent legislation, credit card vendors are no longer omnipresent on campuses.

There are many attractive cards available to college students. Most likely, you’ll need a co-signer, as you won’t have full-time income. There should be a limit placed on the card, anywhere from a $500 to $1,000 maximum. The lender will most likely place strict limits on your available credit without you asking for it, but inquire anyway.

4. Consider a Roth IRA.

Believe it or not, it’s not too early to begin saving for retirement; think of all the time you have to benefit from investment appreciation. It’s OK to start small; remember, you’re trying to create a lifelong savings habit. Earnings from a part-time job are perfect for funding a Roth IRA.

For 2014, the contribution limit is $5,500, and at retirement, the money is available tax-free. Also, contributions (which are made with after-tax dollars) can be withdrawn at any time before retirement, without penalty.

5. Don’t get carried away with school spirit.

In college, I needed to own every T-shirt, sweatshirt, pen, mug—you name it, all emblazoned with the school logo. I spent hundreds of dollars on stuff I didn’t need due to my out-of-control school spirit. Limit your enthusiasm to two wearable items a year.

6. Begin a budgeting behavior.

Heck, not even an actual budget; I know how busy you’re going to be. A budget mindset is enough. Be aware of your spending habits. Understand once you run out of cash, you’re out. Do not go to the credit card for relief.

And keep a conversation going with your folks. The most successful students have parents who jointly review spending with their kids on a monthly basis. It takes less than 10 minutes to discover the expenditures with the greatest impact on cash flow.

7. Study one money tip each day or week.

It’s not that difficult. Pick any financial topic. Read one article in the business section of a local newspaper daily before you hit the books. One graduate I know read about one basic investing topic weekly at www.investor.gov. She developed a great intuitive sense about stocks, bonds, money markets—enough to ask smart questions that allowed her to maximize her 401(k) savings when she landed a job.

There’s a lot to learn as a freshman; enjoying your college experience to the fullest is important.

Just keep your money in mind, and think about how the actions you take today can either set you on the path to financial success or leave you lost in the woods.

Have Kids? 4 Ways to Save Money: 4 Ways Dave Ramsey gets it Wrong.

Featured

“Money is more than money, sometimes it’s memory.”

I’ll never forget the March day in 1973 when the birthday gift from my parents – a new lime-green Schwinn 10-speed with a prism-like banana seat (complete with black double-stripe down the middle) was stolen from outside the Brooklyn neighborhood toy store – Cheap Charlie’s.

green schwinn

I believed I did all the right things to ensure my prized possession was secured tightly to a small tree.  It was in my line of sight; no matter where I was, even checking out stacks of Hasbro Colorforms’ boxes at the back of my favorite five and dime, I could glance out the large plate glass windows and observe some part of the bike’s beautiful, clean lines.

Padlock checked twice. Pulled on the lock again, just to be sure I wasn’t fooling myself that the bike was secure.

It wasn’t enough to keep this new birthday purchase from disappearing.

Looked up from the new GI Joe Adventure Team play sets and in less than two minutes the bike was history. I bolted out the front door, looked around, up and down Avenue U as fast as my head could turn and eyes would dart.

mummy tomb My favorite!!

Nothing.  How did the bastard get away so quickly? Oh yeah, he was on wheels.

How do I now tell my parents the expensive gift that surprised me three hours earlier was now history?

Recently, Dave Ramsey or his people (he’s big time, he has people), wrote an article that rubbed me the wrong way. Usually, I agree with the information that Dave provides however, this piece (link below) inspired the line about money linked to memory.

10 Ways We Waste Money On Our Kids.

The Ramsey article was the catalyst to re-live a painful life episode from over forty years ago.

What happened after the incident was memorable, too.  In a good way.

And I’ll never forget.

Back to Dave’s article: Used bikes, no hamsters as pets – Made me grateful to not be a kid or grandchild under the Ramsey roof.

Is there a balanced approach here so rodents can still scurry through colorful Habittrail tubes in happy homes?

I think so.

habitrail I bet Dave would hate Habittrail (too expensive).

Let’s break it down.

Here are 4 ways to save and 4 areas where Dave Ramsey is way off the mark.

 Random Thoughts:

1). Go used or reused. I don’t believe our money has achieved the maximum return on thrift stores or consignment shops.

Thankfully, the stigma of shopping at a Salvation Army is dying; perhaps it’s the disappointing economic recovery where much of the middle class feels like the Great Recession never ended. Recently, my daughter and I went shopping for a winter week-long trip to New York City and found some astounding cold weather wear deals at a neighborhood place that sells gently-used teen clothing. Check out www.thethriftshopper.com for a national thrift store directory and a shoppers’ forum where all topics thrift are discussed.

2). Arts and crafts fun not boring. Crafting dollars still go a long way and what a method to engage your child in a family creative endeavor. I know it sounds old school, however some of the best returns on memory I have with my daughter is the Halloween and autumn-related crafts we did at home. We finished multiple joint projects including fall wreaths and small sentiments for family and it was short on cost, long on satisfaction. Sign up for Pinterest and investigate fall craft ideas. I was floored by the number of inexpensive DIY Halloween projects.

3). Get tricky. When I was a kid I drove my mother crazy because I was only interested in popular name brands of food. I was a sucker for television advertising. For example, I would only eat the bacon with the Indian head profile complete with full headdress, on the front of the package – can’t recall the name now. Of course, it was the most expensive and as a single parent household, mom was on a tight budget. I still remember catching her placing a less popular bacon in an old package of the brand I liked.  Come to think of it, I think she did this often. I recall on occasion my Lucky Charms not having as many marshmallows. Oh the shame! She was attempting to trick me. As I age I realize I’m fine with tricking children. Buy the Frosted Flakes, keep the box and replace with the generic brand to save money. Today, less expensive brands are tough to tell apart from the premium ones. Try it.

4). Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Visit local venues first. This time of year many autumn fairs pop up at farms, places of worship and even retail parking lots. Peruse the local fair festival guides in community impact newspapers and take inexpensive journeys.  It’s a great time to have children select and prepare fresh vegetables and fruits available from local vendors.

The stuff Dave Ramsey is saying is a waste may not be to you because money is not just a medium of exchange, it purchases long-term lessons and memories of places and people long gone.

So, despite what the Ramsey group says:

1). Get, or if you can, adopt a pet. The hamster or whatever suits your family. My hamster Benjy lived five years. Yes, five years! And he taught me great responsibility and love. He brought happiness and accomplishment to my life as a nine-year old. I thought he’d live forever. I taught him tricks. He chased my mother around our tiny Brooklyn walk-up (an added bonus). Dave says no Benjy. I’m sorry, this advice is wrong.

2). Say yes to movie tickets. Ok, you don’t want your six-year old to see The Equalizer, I get it. Although my father took me to The Godfather when it first hit theatres and Sonny getting converted into human Swiss cheese at the tollbooth affected me for years, there is a bonding experience between parents and children at the movies. So, you sit through Little Fluffy Bunny Finds a Carrot or whatever kids’ flick is playing. Take your children to the movies. Splurge on the overpriced candy and popcorn.

3). Yes to electronic games, too. My friend Jordan Shapiro, professor, teacher, author, contributor to Forbes and modern-day Socrates would advise you that electronic games can teach children much about life and ignite cognitive development. There are many ways to save here – plenty of gaming systems available used and in great condition, especially at pawn shops. I spent hours with my Batman coloring books; I agree crayons have a place in kids’ rooms, however, I don’t see how electronic games are a waste of money.

4). Buy the kid a new bike for gosh sakes. There’s nothing like the thrill of a new bike for a kid. All the adventures ahead – the feelings of freedom. Nothing but priceless. My head is reeling thinking about the places I went on two wheels.

Ah, so you’re wondering how I had so many great adventures when my bike was stolen the same day I got it.

Well, when I called my father from the kitchen Trimline phone crying hysterically, he immediately left work in the middle of the day (which only happened twice during my childhood),  and drove me to Frank’s Schwinn Shop on East 6th Street and bought me an identical replacement.

He said it wasn’t my fault.

On his deathbed, while he lapsed in and out of a coma, I whispered in my dad’s ear, reminded him about how I was grateful for him. And that damn bike episode. How it changed my life. He was there for me through a traumatic event.

It’s unfortunate when financial types become so successful they forget what money is truly all about. It’s “eat your vegetables, don’t have fun.”

No it isn’t.

“Money is more than money, sometimes it’s memory.”

So screw that advice.

remember moments

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

Featured

“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.

Featured

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.

Featured

“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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

I Called her Daisy: A Love & Money Story.

Featured

IMG_0248

I was only with her for six hours but I had a name for her; I called her Daisy. I wanted her around longer. Naming her was a reach for hope. Hope she would make it.

To some thoughtless prick, Daisy was a living thing to be thrown away-destined to die on a busy Texas street. She hugged a dirty curb as best she could, her head too heavy to hold up from oncoming traffic. It was only a matter of time before Daisy’s frail dark frame would melt into a dark roadway and she would be killed by unsuspecting or uncaring drivers.

It was around 8:40pm. I drove a path from the gym I rarely take. I’m also seldom at the gym at deep night hours. I’m not overly religious but truly believe I was to come across Daisy for a reason. As I passed her up, she was literally sitting in a puddle of dirty water, barely able to move.

For a very brief second I too thought of driving on; I wanted to see my daughter and it was late. I played out in my head what was to happen next: It was inevitable this thin, weak puppy was going to be road kill. I was praying just one of the cars passing quickly would stop. Nobody did. As I looked in my rearview mirror I could see this poor thin animal attempt to stand. As she attempted to walk I could see the limp.

It was too much for me, I pulled over to get her.

I approached slowly; I didn’t want to scare her into traffic. As I methodically moved closer she got up and I stopped-talking to her gently with each step. Thankfully, she veered the opposite way toward a wooded area and not into the road. As she dragged herself and cowered behind a makeshift billboard in high brush, I was taken aback by her thin appearance.

She was tall, but looked half the size of a normal border-collie/lab mix (the vet educated me). She was not much more than skin, bones and big expressive eyes which followed me (and remained with me for hours after). I knew it was a she from the frayed pink and rhinestone collar around a thin neck.  Once I felt she was safe, I retrieved a bottled water from my car.

Thirst was the only thing ferocious about this pathetic soul.

I carry a few huge bath towels in my trunk. I got them, scooped the puppy up in my arms and rushed her to a local emergency clinic. There was a two-hour wait to see a vet-I was willing to stay as long as necessary. Once we were in to see the doctor, I felt optimistic; in the waiting room Daisy got up a bit, wagged her tail, appeared curious about her new surroundings and me especially.

A little movement tired her quickly, though yet she never took her dark eyes off me. The receptionist called her eyes “soulful,” and there was something especially sad about them. In a very short period of time I was hooked. In love.

In my head I was thinking about how much this was going to cost (the talkative front desk person at the emergency clinic reminded me consistently they were not “good Samaritans,” and treatment was not free). Exactly what I was willing to pay to get this girl healed up and the strategy to find this abandoned sweetie a good home was somewhat calculated.  My heart was a different story. Already, I added the cost of a new dog house and development of a cordoned-off place in my backyard.

The ongoing lessons about puppy diseases, especially canine parvovirus, began to dampen my hopes a bit. When it was suggested I could spend $300 I didn’t flinch and approved a test for the virus and an X-ray on a swollen left paw. By then I knew Daisy was approximately seven months old and had a whole life still ahead of her. Obviously, her future was taking a turn for the better. At least in my heart it did.

A couple of more hours passed. By that time, Daisy was asleep soundly on a cold exam table. I covered her so her shivering would cease and stroked her head incessantly. I spoke gently in her closest ear and she’d awaken to stare at me a bit and then put her head back down. By this time I knew there was no way I could part with her and would do what I could to make her well again. She deserved that.

After the parvovirus test came back positive, I was told it would cost $1,200 to take care of her for the night. My financial bandwidth expanded. Ok. Sold. Another hour passed. My firm belief was the investment in this girl was worth it; after all we would be together a long time.

Based on the increasing flow of serious patients, I was getting piecemeal information from three different sources and it felt like forever. It was now four hours later and with each bit of data I was riding an emotional high, then a low. I was on a high on the last round of discussion, until the vet came in again. Low blow time.

“Have you decided what you would like to do?” the vet asked me.

“I’m willing to pay to get her well, you said $1,200 right?” I blurted out. In my mind, the money was spent. I already mentally accounted for it and documented it in my I Phone budget app to make it official. I visualized a sliding scale and figured I was in the mid-range of what I would be willing to spend. It shamed me a bit since I was monetizing a life.

“Well, that’s only for overnight.” She continued as I began to feel a pit growing in my stomach. “In the morning she would need to go to another vet office for daily treatment. At night she would need to be transported back here to complete 24-hour care.”

I wasn’t told this crucial additional bit of information originally. As I mentioned, data received was scattered and piecemeal. After that bombshell I was left alone again as the sole, overworked doc on duty needed to exit for another emergency walk in.

By this time I’m stroking Daisy’s head and ear so hard, I’m afraid I’m going to pull the skin away from her skull. I’m thinking odds, probabilities and fiscal bandwidth. Then I suddenly felt like I was cheating on my current pup Princess. The figure $5 thousand popped into my mind too-no idea why. Would I spend this sum on Daisy who I barely knew but felt responsible for?

What if it was Princess in her place? What was Princess’ life worth?

What if Princess got sick soon and I already spent a fortune on Daisy?

I was stress-testing my fiscal parameters. And would Princess bite Daisy after all this? What were the odds Daisy would get well even after days, possibly weeks of intense treatment of 24-hour intravenous and monitoring? The vet was very cryptic to say the least. I needed more information to make a decision. And I was frustrated. I’m usually the one who is responsible and is consulted to resolve situations. Now, I just felt queasy and my brain was reeling. I realized the one who is customarily consulted did not like the unfamiliar role of one who required consulting.

Another hour passed. It was almost as if they timed a visit like clockwork every hour. I was beginning to think I could set a clock by the emergency crew.

This time a stocky vet technician entered. She was refreshingly straightforward, in my face and I was appreciative. “Rich, overall, this treatment will run $5 – $8 thousand by the time you’re done and there’s no assurance she will get better. The virus is pretty far advanced and the odds are not good.” She fell silent after that.

My dreams of a dog house and run in my new roomy backyard began to fade. The awkward introduction of Princess to Daisy also seemed to be more of a wish than a future reality.

“What would you do?” It just came out deadpan, without thought. I didn’t want it to, but it did; I did not want to hear the answer and I could feel my face tighten to a wince after the question left my lips. I rarely feel truly helpless-I can count the times on one hand. This night I moved on to the other hand.

“I would consider euthanasia. It might be for the best. It’s what I would do.”

Well, this was a horrible turn. But wait-Daisy appeared to be getting better from the time I picked her up out of the dirt; she was more responsive to me, her gums were pink (supposedly a good sign). How can it be the odds were so poor? The technician was sure they were and she had seen many of these cases. During this time, the poor puppy was sleeping deeply but I can tell her breathing was labored.

It was a decision I didn’t want to make. I make decisions all the time about lots of client dollars I treat as my own, but this was truly a dilemma for me and I was now up against the wall.

Next hour the vet returned, this round she had a bit more time for me. It was almost like the tech had prepped her. We reviewed the details again.

After six hours of tests, dialogue and anguish I made the decision to do what I thought was humane for Daisy. The vet and tech shed tears and thanked me for not leaving this poor girl on the side of the road. Supposedly, a parvovirus death is very painful. I didn’t want her to suffer, I wanted Daisy to have peace however, I wanted her to have that peace with me for years to come. I hated the decision and hated the fact that I took that road from the gym-at least at the time. I asked for a few more minutes with this gentle puppy who trusted me to take care of her and here I was soon to be responsible for ending her short life.

I whispered in her ear that I loved her (I truly did), I said goodbye full of tears and as I moved closer to her face full of fleas she licked me lightly on the cheek….

Of course I documented my experience on Facebook along with pictures. I also kept my daughter Haley abreast of all developments and I’m glad she wasn’t there with me. Facebookl friends were surprisingly sympathetic and caring and it was appreciated. The next day my good friend Stephanie (an ardent animal lover) and I exchanged commentary about the experience through instant messaging. I will spare all the colorful expletives about Daisy’s former allegedly irresponsible owners.

Steph: “What are you doing today?”

Rich: “Don’t know yet. Work being done on house. Just writing.”

Steph: “What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Rich: “I was hoping she would be ok. I would have built a space for her in the yard. She was only 7 months old.”

Steph: “Of course you would have kept her.”

I rolled right over Stephanie’s comment; perhaps I was too full of grief to consider it or respond to what I thought later was such a prolific statement: What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Random Thoughts:

1). Saving is so much more than something you do for future goals like retirement or education. It’s about having choice and occasionally it’s about the right now. Guess I always knew it; I’ve been preaching this money stuff for years. But sometimes you can lose sight of the obvious until a series of words and actions conjoin to re-spark your perspective. Money is part of life and sometimes it allows you to make a decision out of love. Some thoughts:

2). Occasionally saving money is to make a choice for today, not tomorrow. Would I even had the ability to help Daisy if I was overburdened with debt and didn’t have a strong saving discipline? Probably not. I would have possessed little if any financial flexibility to save this precious girl if her odds of recovery were good. Saving today can help you today, perhaps on your way home from the gym or grocery store.

3). Why you save reflects your passions and beliefs about money: Perhaps you save to give to a specific charity, or to help an animal or take your family on a special trip every year. It’s not the money, it’s what it adds to the fabric of your life and the good you do with it based on strong feelings and beliefs. Eventually some of the money is spent on a form of enrichment. Or at least, I HOPE SO.

4). Your household budget should be on the tip of your fingers, or as close to you as your smart phone. I was able to assess my budget and financial situation quickly. I was under enough stress already with the decision to help a dying animal. I don’t want to fly blind financially. Sit down alone or with a professional to understand the daily dynamics of your finances.

5). Saving is a gift to yourself. Even though I abhorred the decision I was required to make about Daisy’s life, I realized after my head cleared a bit, the money empowered me to save her from a prospective horrible death she certainly didn’t deserve. What if I wasn’t financially prepared? I would have needed to call animal control perhaps and I would have never been able to sit well with that decision, at all.  I’m grateful to have crossed this puppy’s path; it was money well spent to give Daisy peace.

Years ago, a country music singer/mentor told me: “You name the things you love.” I realized for me to say I called her Daisy was blatantly incorrect.

I named her Daisy because for six hours, I loved her-because she needed me to. I still do. I will always. Are you saving for what and who you love for tomorrow and most important, today?

Think about it before a decision is thrown in the road on your way home.

I know she rests in peace. Love and money was able to provide a few more hours of comfort.

And I would do it again.

IMG_0250

 

 

 

Four Words To Better Retirement Planning.

Featured

As originally posted on http://www.nerdwallet.com. 

What are the obstacles that cause you to veer off course when it comes to retirement planning?

Increasing your odds of planning success shouldn’t be so complicated.

Solutions are obvious. There’s no magic.

Small changes in perspective or actions can lead to better results.

Hey, it’s never perfect either.

Remember the two main goals of the financial services industry:

1). To baffle you enough to sell you something you don’t need.

2). To force-feed you long-term bull market Kool-Aid to make you think stocks are a panacea (30% portfolio losses: Hey, no big deal. You have time on your side).

But you’re smarter than that, right?

Right? 

My former employer’s retirement simulation is so happy-go-lucky and optimistic (because every market is a bull market), it reminds me of Homer Simpson’s happy dream romp through chocolate town.

It’s toilet paper.

Don’t fall for the hype. Don’t even wipe with it: You’ll get a rash.

homer simpson chocolate dream

Maybe it comes down to simplicity.

Let’s start with four words.

Random Thoughts:

1). NO. Recall the habit of lending money to friends and relatives who rarely make efforts to repay. It’s time to make your retirement strategy a priority and use the word “no” often. You don’t need to explain. It’s an uncomfortable but necessary perspective. At the least, you’ll need to be selective, perhaps formal in your agreements going forward. The health of your retirement plan is at stake.

If you’re passionate about helping, consider the support provided, a gift. Set rules at first if saying “no” is difficult. For example, establish a specific dollar amount in the budget for purposes of lending. Never lend to the same borrower twice in the same year. Decrease the allotment by ten percent every year until eventually it’s so insignificant you’ll feel too embarrassed to say anything but “no.”

“No” is personal empowerment. Think of the word as a boundary – A verbal line in the sand that deepens the territory you’re clear won’t be crossed. “No” is a confidence builder. It allows greater focus on the “yes” you need to succeed.

Consider how postponing or decreasing saving for retirement by placing priority on education savings plans or by taking on excessive debt to assist children with college funding deserves a “no.”

Naturally, you want your children to prosper however, when the time comes to retire, there’s no loan, financial aid or scholarship opportunities available to you. The kids have options for funding. You don’t. A hardline “no” isn’t necessary; a change in perspective followed by action may be good enough.

Understanding when a “no” is necessary to avoid a derail of your plan is art and science.  A set of rules and setting expectations can help clarify when a “no” needs to surface. Perhaps you can partially subsidize education costs or seek compromise (a public, in-state option vs. the private university cost).

In eight out every ten plans I’ve designed, retirement is postponed by at least six years when parents decide to foot the entire education bill.  Saying “no” to full boat means your retirement boat floats sooner. I’ve witnessed retirement postponed a couple of years in most cases when compromises are made – a big improvement over waiting six years.

Mitch Anthony, author of the book “The New Retirementality” describes the modern retiree as trying to strike a perfect balance between vacation and vocation. In other words, maybe the perfect retirement plan is to say “no” to retirement. The traditional perception of retirement is indeed dying.

I work with a large number of part-time retirees who consult or are employed a few days a week to keep their minds active and say “yes” to continued contributions to the workforce. Meaningful engagement in a work environment is important to this group however, those retirees who do work are ready to say “no” at a moment’s notice if their employment situation grows unenjoyable or less meaningful. They have much to offer and their experiences and skills are valuable.

As best-selling author and good friend James Altucher told me:

“Never say no to something you love, so you never retire.”

His new book co-written with Claudia Azula Altucher, “The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance and Happiness,” will be necessary reading and provided to those I assist with retirement planning.

Ponder the “no” opportunities. Start with the actions you believe postpone or negatively affect what I call “retirement plan flow” which is anything that prevents your plan from firing on all cylinders.

A client recently said – “I even stand straighter when I say no. It makes me feel good.”

no

2). WAIT: The most common mistake I encounter are retirees who look to take Social Security retirement benefits before full retirement age when waiting as long as possible can add thousands in additional dollars to a retirement plan.

I’ve had to say “no” to clients seeking to retire at age 62. And I’m not ashamed. What’s three more years? It goes fast. And waiting can be lucrative. According to a 2008 study by T. Rowe Price, working three years longer, waiting until full retirement age, and saving 15% of your annual salary could increase annual income from an investment portfolio by 22%. If you can handle five more working years and save 25% of your annual salary through that period (takes some work), then expect a surprising 50% more income in retirement.

Delaying Social Security benefits from full retirement age to age 70 will result in an 8% increase plus cost-of-living adjustments. Where else can you gain a guaranteed 8% a year? Of course, nobody knows how long they’re going to live but if you’re healthy at 62 and there’s a history of longevity in the family, it’s worth the risk to wait until at least full retirement age.

3). SELL: Based on a recent paper written by Michael Kitces, publisher of The Kitces Report and Wade D. Pfau, professor of retirement income at the American College, reducing stock exposure at the beginning of retirement then increasing over time  is an effective strategy for reaching lifetime spending and portfolio survival goals.

The heart of the research is “Plan U” (for unorthodox in my opinion) — a “U-shaped” allocation where stocks are a greater share of the portfolio through the accumulation/increasing human capital stage (makes sense), decrease at the beginning of retirement, and then increase again throughout the retirement period.

The concept of reducing stock exposure early in retirement and increasing it later sounds highly counterintuitive – although from a market and emotional perspective it’s plausible, especially now.

First, be sensitive to your mindset as shifting from a portfolio accumulation to distribution strategy can be stressful. Focus on financial issues to allay uncertainty like (don’t let greater stock exposure add to stress), household cash flow and retirement portfolio withdrawal strategy. Gain and monitor progress with a financial partner or objective third party at least every quarter for validation and adjustment. The first year of retirement is an opportune time to step back from stocks especially as you feel uncertain and occupied with what I believe are more immediate concerns.

Second, stocks are not cheap based on several long-term price/earnings valuation metrics. Selling if you’re close to, or at retirement can be an effective strategy. Regardless, you may need to rebalance to free up enough cash to begin retirement account withdrawals by trimming profits in the face of lofty valuations.

Not a bad idea. Yes – sell, not buy.

As of the end of May, the P/E 10 which is based on the ten-year average of actual corporate earnings stands at 24.9. Since the historic P/E 10 average is 16.5, the current bull indicates an extreme overvalued condition.

Last, even though the key word is “sell” don’t forget to periodically add back to your stock allocation. Get the topic on your radar and continue the “U” formation after two years in retirement have passed. By then, you should have greater confidence in your overall plan and settled into a lifestyle pattern that suits your well-being.

4). SHIFT: Be open-minded and willing to alter plans as required. After two devastating stock market selloffs since 2000 and structural changes to employment including the permanent loss of jobs, we are growing accustomed to dealing with financial adversity – shifting our thinking to adjust to present conditions. Actions outside your control – poor interest rates on conservative vehicles like certificates of deposit, can disrupt retirement savings and cash flow. On average, the Great Recession has motivated out of necessity or fear, the desire for pre-retirees to work longer and continue to carefully monitor their debt burdens.

In addition, shift your thinking about continuing to save aggressively in retirement accounts as you get closer to retirement. If 80% or more of your investments are in tax-deferred plans, and you’re five years or less from your retirement date, I would consider meeting the employer match in retirement plans and saving the rest in taxable brokerage accounts. This strategy affords greater flexibility with tax planning during the withdrawal phase as generally, capital gains are taxed at lower rates than the ordinary income distributed from retirement accounts.

A qualified financial and tax professional can create a hybrid process where funds are withdrawn both from tax-deferred and after-tax assets. The goal is to gain tax control by not ending up in a situation where ultimately all distributions are in retirement accounts which will ostensibly be taxed as ordinary income. Your strategy requires close examination of how to blend all investment account distributions to minimize tax impact.

Shift your attitude about annuities. Look beyond the bad press and overarching negative generalizations you hear from financial personalities in the media – “Annuities are bad.” Are all annuities bad? No.

Several types of annuities exist. Some come with overwhelming add-on features and are difficult to understand.  You’ll know when to step away. Others are expensive and should be avoided. For example, variable annuities with layers of fees are a bad deal.  I find little benefit to them in retirement planning.

The greatest purpose of an annuity is to provide an income you cannot outlive. In its purest form, an income annuity whether immediate or deferred can be used to bolster the lifetime income from Social Security.

As you budget, total how much is required to meet household essential expenses, indexed for inflation: Rent, mortgage, utility bills, real estate taxes, food, gas, automobile payments (you get the picture). From there, work with an insurance representative (could be your financial partner), to calculate the investment required in a deferred income or immediate annuity to cover mandatory expenses along with Social Security.

An annuity investment takes over some of the burden of funding retirement; it shifts risk to an insurance company which increases the odds of portfolio longevity and or having the money you seek for fun stuff like travel and hobbies.

Retirement planning satisfaction can happen.

Occasionally, we create obstacles by accident.

Simple words can be powerful tools to cut away the confusion and settle your mind.

What other words will you consider?

Hey!

Not that one!

oh shit

 

Four Ways To Overcome Financial Inertia.

Featured

Five years after the financial crisis and those who cross my path tell me it feels like the recession never ended. They are stressed over personal finance, investing and debt management.

I get it.

dear ki

The concerns are valid. The stock market is up close to 200% since March 2009 so who wants to chase it; housing is sloppy but recovering. In several pockets of the country, real estate is expensive and prices are out of reach for many individual investors. Wage growth is dead (you receive a raise, lately?), we are spending more time in our death cubicles and missing soccer games. The masses burned out three years ago and saunter around today like the living dead hoping they can make it home to collapse in front of the television.

Sort of blows.

burn out

However, there are ways to take smart steps and overcome fear and procrastination:

To feel alive and in control again (remember that?)

Random Thoughts:

1). Go beneath the fears. Sure, I bet you can banter on about what concerns you. Until you use pen and paper to list what’s heavy on your mind, you’ll never completely weigh the implications of doing nothing. You may be surprised to discover that what really frightens you is merely a misunderstanding.

For example, I have a friend who was hesitant to save for retirement but his true dilemma was frustration over the limited choices in his current employer’s retirement plan; he failed to understand other retirement account choices were available outside his job.

Documenting fear will narrow down to issues you may explore with professionals or confidantes. An action plan outlining milestones will provide a sense of accomplishment and embolden you to accelerate positive behaviors.

2). Push ahead mentally 20 years to feel the pain enough to make one move. Who says you need to walk huge steps at once? Take small steps and move already. A way to create a urgency is to imagine what your life will be like two decades into the future if you remain in finance neutral.

What will your life be like 20 years from now if you don’t begin saving for retirement? Forget all the financial industry bull that makes you feel like if you don’t start socking away money from the age of 25, you’re permanently doomed to a life of poverty. It’s like me saying – “Hey, you’re 40. Too late to improve your health through diet and exercise, so just forget it. “

fat guy eating

I’ve worked with many accumulators who have hit their stride late, made changes to reduce debts and increase savings at a time when they believed – “why bother?” Along with an investing strategy they have caught up. They’re in a better place, financially.

So you’re late getting off your ass: Big deal. Just start.

3). Do some research. Knowledge is power. As you learn, fear will fade as you engage. A lack of knowledge will stir up uncertainty and freeze you in place. Sort of like what happened to us immediately after the Great Recession. Who the heck thought we could suffer another devastating economic collapse?

Don’t succumb. Dig in, a piece at a time until you feel less uneasy about the topic. Nobody expects you to be an expert; don’t be too hard on yourself. Gather opinions from professionals. Know the rewards AND risks.

Be wary of too much knowledge. Yes, you read that right. In other words, those who immerse in a subject begin to feel invincible. It’s at that point, dumb mistakes are made. You must remain humble in your quest to avoid overconfidence bias. Pompous asses usually don’t win. Don’t be a pompous ass. It takes too much energy for nothing. And nobody will want to help you reach your goals.

pompous

4). A little fear is healthy.  When it comes to money I find fear to be a motivator if used in controlled doses. Slight discomfort is healthy and will push you ahead. It’s through time and experience that fear will be perceived as friend. You should never get too comfortable when it comes to handling your finances. Discomfort breeds curiosity. Curiosity leads to awareness, especially of risk.

Eventually, inertia will be a memory; it will no longer prevent you from making improvements, seeking opinions and basking in accomplishment.

Household financial stagnation is still with us.

Doing nothing is detrimental to your long-term accumulation of wealth.

It’s time to get off the pot.

And unlock the potential.

Who knows?

You may even make new friends, get dates.

And reduce inertia, gain energy, in several areas of your life.

And get your head out of the urinal.

toilet guy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Money Magic Mindset – 5 Ways To Get There From Here.

Featured

Some people are their own worst enemies.

worst enemy

This isn’t some new-age bullshit.

If you berate the person in the mirror and think or speak in defeatist terms, then you’ll walk a loser path word bricks have laid out for you.

So what are the words, phrases and sentences that can help you alter your current thinking about money?

How can you create a positive financial feedback loop?

Random Thoughts:

1). The words you say to yourself are everything.  Even if not exactly true (yet), what you convince your mind of, will eventually happen.  It’s called imprinting. You’re moving your thought process from negative to positive. Here’s how to switch it up. So you tell little white lies to yourself. Big deal. As long as their positive, who you hurting?

Give yourself a break.

Instead of:  “I’m a spender,” say “I’m a saver.” 

“I will use cash over credit.”

“I will save 5-10% of my salary.”

You’ll be receptive to take constructive action if you train your mind to feel good first about the decision you made. Say it then do it.

do it now

Get your lazy ass online to your 401(k) account and increase your contribution by 2% this weekend. Then worry about where the money is going to come from. You won’t even notice the change.

2). Ask yourself better questions.  Never use the word: Why. Why sets the stage for financial failure and mental obstacles.  Why can be a death sentence.

Replace why with how.

why why

For example, “why don’t I receive a raise?” is defeating language.

Think: “How can I receive a raise?” which forces the mind to create action steps to the goal you’re looking to achieve.

3). Create a “Crossroad Statement.” A “Crossroad Statement” is a “blood” declaration to yourself; it’s when you finally admit your current financial situation is not where you want to be.

It’s a decision in writing, to make a change – “I will be credit card debt free by February 2015.”

Keep your CRS with you; place it as a reminder in your smartphone.

crosstrack

4). Shamelessly employ coaches. Want to make your “Crossroad Statement” strong? Share it with people who will hold you accountable, keep you on track and celebrate your success.

5). Failure is power. Yeah, you read that right. So you fail at something, so what? What did you learn? How will you use the lessons to move ahead?

Words are everything.

The ones you employ to money map your mind will make a big difference to your future.

 

The Zombie Way: 7 Life Lessons From The Living Dead.

Featured

Zombies have been taking over your city whether you realize it or not.

It’s been happening for decades.

zombie city

Good enough reason to keep your doors locked, people! Not that locked doors help for long. After all, a mere few zombies can turn over cars so bolted doors and measly plywood over windows buys you just enough time to say goodbye to the loved ones.

night barrage

Sooner or later you’re on the menu.

Zombies are so white-red hot right now; these decaying, staggering masses or the deadest of “us,” easily steal attention away from popular (yet horrific) headlines from the likes of a very living Kim Kardashian stripping down or Lindsay Lohan losing her top at a nightclub. Who wants to see a naked zombie exposing her breasts (except out of macabre curiosity?)

Well, I do! But that’s just me.

zombie butt

The living dead have risen in prominence. Taken their rightful place. Gnawed their way to the top.

For decades their popularity has ebbed and flowed yet their presence has never truly decayed. And now they’re everywhere you turn. It’s the zombie time to shine! Albeit they’ve lost a healthy glow shared by their breathing cousins but it doesn’t matter.

I don’t see zombie popularity diminishing in the near future.

As economic conditions remain strained and public unrest persists, the fascination with these rotted maggot shells lives on. Several investigations exist to prove my case. I won’t bore you with them.

I’ll share my own rationale behind zombie fever. Also why I’m scared of them and admire them at the same time.

First, think about this:

They don’t fret over paying electric bills, meeting mortgage payments or college tuition
costs. The days of anguish over the daily money monkeyshines of the living are gone! Surviving takes on a totally different perspective.

How we relish those with reckless abandon who can just chase and bite, stagger and gnash like rabid animals.

The Government has even been known to send dead people unemployment and social
security checks but they have no need to cash them. I’m jealous. The mortal coil
of everyday fiscal obligations is broken. We are envious of the financial freedom. Who
wouldn’t be?

Zombies are brazenly wasteful and they don’t care!

It gets me frustrated. If the living dead are so ravenous why do they take no more than two bites of prey and move on? There isn’t an endless supply of warm bodies to nosh on.

nom nom nom

The undead need to do better with food handling. What about all those starving zombies in China? Even when they decide to dig hard and tear deep through a victim zombies don’t appear to be eating. They play with their food (in this case elbow deep in intestines, organs and other nondescript red slimy entrails). If I enjoyed my food this much as a kid I would have been in enormous trouble with the parents.

zombie with intestines

Perhaps I’m missing the point.

Maybe zombies don’t require sustenance. Now that I ponder, why would an animated rotting corpse need nutrition? Could it be they bite primarily to propagate the undead population?

They don’t appear to be very friendly to each other. I don’t witness any bonding among zombie hoards that convinces me they derive any benefits from increasing the undead population through procreation. I witness no hand holding or team work. They don’t even trip over each other.

Zombie French kissing seems wrong, too. Some don’t have tongues.

zombie tongue

In the AMC hit television series “The Walking Dead,” a believable explanation for the
genesis of said program title emerges.

At least it allays some of my frustrations over the deliberate waste of the fresh walking food supply.

In the Season One finale “TS-19,” the sole remaining doctor at the Center for Disease
Control (gingerly insane although very sage from a lethal combination of: Isolation, shooting his wife known as test-subject 19, and acceding to the awful truth
that there is no cure for the afflicted), outlines findings as a zombie zealot, I find plausible.

Dr. Jennings explains:

“The disease invades the brain like meningitis (ok I heard that’s bad).

The brain stem is restarted. Gets them up and moving (makes sense to me).

Most of the brain is dark: Dark, lifeless, dead. The frontal lobe, the “you,” the human part
is gone (it does appear that way).”

I’ve concluded (I think), animated dead folk are indeed ravenous.

They don’t possess the human or humanity (what’s left is a tiny spark of light at the base of the brain) to make the most of preserving the food source.

Dr. Steven Schlozman, a psychiatrist, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book “The Zombie Autopsies,” would agree with Dr. Jenner’s conclusions and sizes up zombie appetites in a further professional manner perhaps because he never lost a loved one to a zombie nibble:

“The ventromedial hypothalamus (in the brain), which tells humans whether they’ve had enough to eat, is likely to be on the fritz in zombies, who have an insatiable appetite.”

I sort of admire how “walkers” (what zombies are called on “The Walking Dead,”) can be wasteful (and eat whomever they want) without any repercussions. No weight gain.

Damn them. Damn them all even more than they’re already damned. Jealous.

Zombies don’t need to exercise and it’s inevitable they’re going to lose weight without
much effort. I so hate them for this. As a matter of fact even though Hollywood never
seems to get it, if survivors can wait long enough, hunker down. The dead are literally going to rot.

It’s not like they’re embalmed or preserved. They’re sauntering about through
the harshest of elements. Eventually they’ll be dragging around close to the ground. Clumps of harmless, fermented flesh if you’re patient enough. You can then brazenly walk up and do a step and squash on what’s left of a head. Simple.

My boots are ready!

Zombies don’t poop. They’re no longer human, therefore they can’t blow up the economy, housing, stocks, banks,the currency, gold, or whatever else financially related. It would be a relief not to be bothered with reading all the financial publications that consume me.

Since zombies don’t experience fear, avarice, lust and all other very human vices I can’t foresee how they could fuck up the economy any worse than we can. My belief is corporate America is ingenious enough to eventually replace living employees with the undead at a moment’s notice.

They don’t require wages, benefits, time with family or friends.

Can you see the writing on the wall here?

Zombies no longer feel torment, guilt, revenge, passion, regret. They don’t hold baggage from parents who messed with their heads.

No cheating spouses or backstabbing friends to fret over. No Viagra (they’re stiff enough). No looking to slice up the boss (unless it’s for the purposes of eating.) Bliss!

Zombies can’t run no matter how some movies mess this up. I have a major issue with this one and I’ve studied zombies since I was ten years-old. This is purely an exploitation move created by film makers to make audiences feel more vulnerable and scared. No thank you. I’m scared enough by the staggering, original kind.

zombie running

Dr. Schlozman would back me up big time here. The good doctor in his book takes his
zombies seriously. As a matter of fact, when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives, survivors must find a way to the doc. His extensive study will be invaluable.
These primal hollows of our living selves just cannot run. Done.

From Doc Schlozman’s “The Zombie Autopsies,” the wisdom flows freely like blood from a gaping bite wound:

“Slower degenerative processes in the cerebellum explain the initially intact gait of the
infected, even though they all become increasingly unbalanced with time.

That’s why they hold their arms out in front of their bodies: for balance and increased coordination.

They just want to remain upright, on their feet. But the process continues, the cerebellum degrades, liquefies. Virtually all late-stage ANSD humanoids ambulate via crawling.”

AH-HA!

See? Running zombies are an abomination! Listen up movie-makers! I prefer my zombies slow, staggering and overwhelmingly off kilter. I’m a purist.

FYI – ANSD stands for: Ataxie Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome. The
internationally accepted diagnostic term for zombiism. Thanks again Dr. S.

Zombies should stink to high heaven so why don’t victims smell them coming from at least
half a mile away?

I once went an entire week without bathing in 1989.

That’s after sex with two different women, eating several boxes of Entenmann’s orange-swirled chocolate Halloween cupcakes, ten Big Macs and washing it all down with large cups of coffee laced with heavy cream.

entenmans cupcakes two

I recall plenty of female nose crinkling and waves of disgust. Good thing I didn’t leave the house.

You rarely see disgusted looks on the faces of the living. I never heard once in a zombie movie.

“I can’t handle the smell of these walking maggot bags.”

“My eyes are watering from the stench of these fuckers.”

“I’m going to vomit from the ungodly odors these dead things throw off.”

Well, to pay homage to the terrific writers of “The Walking Dead,” like Nichole Beattie (who also has great hair that frames a perfect brain) there have been various references to puke, puking and zombie dead-body odor peppered throughout episodes.They’re passionate about authenticity unlike most who cater to us zombie zealots.

I salute them.

I passionately believe my teachers and friends – The Altuchers (James, Claudia), Kamal Ravikant, Srini Rao, prosper from personal tribulation and help alleviate the suffering of others.

I wondered: Can these sages learn from the behavior of the undead? I believe so.

The dead providing life lessons sounds strange, but I’ve been humbled by the dead. Their teachings sit deep in my frontal lobe.

In many ways, those who have passed are by my side more than ever. They might as well be walking alongside me in following dark shadows.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson over the last two years as I’ve studied zombies:

Hey asshole: Get out of the grave you’re still alive!!

grave hand

What caused me to living die? What causes you to living-die every day?

Working for corporate America (I affectionately call “Corpse America”) was a living death. Every day the corporate overseers would concoct creative ways to squash my spirit. I was under the cancerous thumb of a bloated financial services firm that lost its ethics and I was rotting away. Fast.

zombie suit

There was less time being productive and more mental resources wasted on complying with draconian-like rules and impossible sales goals that were progressively getting worse.

I felt powerless, sick, listless, diseased. I was passively allowing my brain to go dark.

I was able to fight off the corporate infection for years. Then I couldn’t battle any longer.

My immunity for bullshit broke down. I gave zombie-ism permission to wash (bleed) over me. Limbs went limp. The stamina and passion for my business was draining fast like black blood from a gaping neck wound.

I loved the clients and co-workers but felt truly powerless over my destiny. I was bleeding respect for myself and for the first time in years, the confidence in my skills was drained. I was frightened all the time and the dead were closing in on my space.

No matter how much wood I nailed over the windows they just. Kept. Coming.

Was I the only one who felt like this? I don’t know. I could see the light fade
from the eyes around me. Others were going to allow their souls to flee the mortal cavity.
There were the kids, or the mortgage, the car payment or the necessary financial
support for the stay-at-home spouse. Everyone was overextended.

Surrender felt like the only option. It was like exposing your most important parts willingly to a nasty zombie bite.

Ongoing bad health habits sooner or later, are a coffin filler.

In 2006, my idea of diet rarely strayed from a cheeseburger with a side order of donuts followed by another cheeseburger and six more donuts.

That was 50 pounds ago. I managed to do enough damage to my organs in one year to end up with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol level approaching 280.

I was so out of shape even a zombie-like stagger would have put me out of breath. Having diabetes scared the zombie out of me. The thought of going blind or losing a limb was more than I could live with. Dead man walking (on one leg) was not going to happen!

I changed  overnight. Oh I’m not perfect, but the disease was a blessing in disguise. I needed something frightening to jump start me.

It worked.

Think about it: What will jump start you to take your health seriously before it’s too late?

Big debt is a flesh biter. Excessive debt levels are a lethal weight on your shoulders and will suck the living life (and death) from you. Whether it’s your household or a government, too much debt is a brain drainer. Oh, you’ll still be able to walk around but dead inside you will be.

It’s worse for your situation than for most governments since you can’t create your
own money (well legally anyway). Too much debt in any form will have you unbalanced
and rotting in no time.

Media overindulgence, especially television, zombifies the frontal lobe. I hate to feel this
way since I know so many terrific media people. It’s just that television especially pseudoreality (not real reality because who wants to watch that?) campy talent and political drivel all eventually erodes the stuff that makes you “you.”

Just monitor and limit your intake.

Writing and reading for at least an hour a day keeps my frontal lobe in a less gelatinous
state. Find what works for you. Even playing a board game might help. Not
Sudoku. I’m convinced zombies created that game. Sudoku players fill out every Sudoku puzzle in every magazine at every doctor and dentist office. It spreads like
chicken pox. Stay away!

Syble Solomon, creator of Money Habitudes™ writes about how the television virus
attacks and tempts you to spend money:

“More subtle are the images of what is
“normal” that are created in most television
shows and movies. Usually people
are well dressed, have great accessories,
drive nice cars and live in up-scale comfortable
housing with expensive furniture and beautiful kitchens. You rarely see anyone
paying for anything on TV or in the movies.”

 

You ever see that fancy apartment on the TV show “Friends?” How did those losers afford it? You begin to believe that’s normal! It’s NOT. Unless the women were high-end call girls working overtime. Then it’s a possibility.

What knowledge you can gain from the walking dead. See? There’s so much.

You’re not the shuffling soulless yet. Be thankful for that. The zombie inside captures
your glance in mirrors. It so desires to permanently deprive you of all the colors
that make you warm and human. It will win if you let it. It works to tempt you.
Even though it feels like you’re dead sometimes, of course you’re not. The nice thing is there’s a cure for your zombie transformation. You can come back.

I know how some of the stuff I wrote about earlier can fry you from deep inside – the
job, the bills, the spouse, the boss, the debt.

Then there’s the receding hairline, the erectile dysfunction. How do you handle this?

Discover ways to restore faith and revive the soul. Search out, step back and document the humans, actions, things that keep you alive and grounded.

It’s healthy to be wasteful once in a while. Put the zombies to shame.

I’m not alluding to tossing crisp, new $20 bills from the sunroof of a moving car (I
tossed a Shania Twain CD from a moving vehicle once). I’m not even referring to
willfully taking a teasing bite out of a filet and discarding the rest just for kicks.

I allocate one day a week (usually a Saturday because I’m a horrible creature of habit,)
to partake in completely wasteful (occasionally disgusting) activities and lovingly
simmer in my own juices.

I take my time closely examining the latest edition of Maxim Magazine, an occasional Playboy, Men’s Health. I eat Chinese take-out in my underwear, indulge in endless Three Stooges episodes on DVD. I strive for a zombie-like state of non-awareness. Is that a word? You get the picture (I’m sorry).

Decompression is a good thing. My theory is that naked zombies really comprehend this chilling out thing. I admire free spirits (living or living dead). Unfortunately, there’s a real scarcity of nude zombies in movies and television. It’s blatantly pitiful (NB, can you work on that?).

The undead have been stalking society long before they became mainstream. They’re
equal opportunity, infiltrate all races and cut a bloody swath across political lines.

They gain attention when economic conditions deteriorate or improvement is anemic.
They pop up during times of social unrest. Since the last recession, the most severe in
decades, zombies have been downright frenzied.

When things are good, we’re making money or generally less turmoil exists in the world, zombies are pushed aside, beaten down. Mocked. Contained.

As much as I love them because I enjoy scary thrills, I long for the days when zombies are disrespected again.

I don’t recall zombies so relevant and overwhelmingly popular as they are today; I’ve been keeping track of their ebb and flow since I first bug-eyed watched the black and white cult classic film “Night of the Living Dead,” by zombie Master Muse George A. Romero, on a crappy plastic encased thirteen-inch black and white TV. 1973.

romero Romero: The Zombie KING.

In 1968, the year “Night” was released, the Vietnam War was released, the Vietnam War was raging, civil rights protests were grabbing headlines and Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

The film cost a grandiose $114,000 to make which even then for a movie was a pittance of a budget. It has grossed over $30 million worldwide. What a return on investment!

Romero created a controversial stir by featuring a black man, unknown stage
actor Duane Jones, as the brave and resourceful hero while most of the men (white) in
the cast were blowhard, wishy-washy or backwoods white folk.

Romero also plays up the contemporary theme of government distrust as dead
body brains are “activated” (allegedly) by radiation expelled from the explosion
of a space satellite, the “Venus Probe.”

Throughout the film, there are shots of military officials (actors) fleeing from television news cameras all the while denying the connection between the radiation and the returning dead who make a meal out of the living.

The bitter irony of the movie is how Ben (Duane Jones) solely survives the night of ghoul attacks by locking himself in the basement of an abandoned farm house only to be shot in the head the next morning by a white member of a sheriff’s posse as he’s mistaken for one of the remaining zombies roaming the countryside.

I remember watching. Scared to death, frozen. Shocked. I recall muttering the words:
“This really sucks.” I hated the ending but I understood the point Romero was trying to make. Well, I think I do. Back then, I interpreted the messages through my warped mental screen. I still believe my interpretation holds up.

First, why bother to survive a zombie hoard if you’re going to be shot in the head by
your own people (the living kind) anyway? What a waste.

Second, make more noise and scream actual words like the living (not guttural grunts like the dead) if you see a posse out a window! Ben, Ben, Ben. You were too quiet. I understand you just went through hell and you’re bit dazed but if it’s me I’m screaming like a sissy living, defecating human who just soiled his Fruit of the Looms!

Third, based on the social turmoil of the 60’s, I think Romero sought to use the film to
convey messages about the futility of the Vietnam War (conflict) and the tragic assassination of MLK, Jr. Go ahead fight the good fight, be honorable, stick to your convictions, but understand there is still a great risk. The hero can indeed fail or die. I hated how Romero killed off Ben at the end (I know I mentioned that, already).

Fourth, an interracial couple holed up in a farm house (even when the female is young,
blonde and completely unresponsive) doesn’t mean sex is definitely gonna happen. Huh?

Not when Ben is around! I was wondering when he was going to rip off Barbara’s (played by a very blonde actress named Judith O’Dea), clothes but all he did was comfort and protect her. Well, he did knock her out with a hit in the face but it was perfectly understandable. She was unhinged after watching her brother become zombie brunch. Like the opening of a porn flick, yet BEN stays out of trouble. 

Even after she clawed at her scarf saying “it’s hot in here, hot.” NOTHING. Ben,
you helped me understand what being a gentleman really means. Can you imagine
if Romero had Ben have his way with Barbara?

gentleman

Talk about controversy in 1968!

And…

Like their walking brethren, the financial decayed are here to stay!

Banks – With many banks domestic and global, systemically risk averse and making
thinner profits they seek to bleed you but instead of teeth you’re getting bitten by fees – higher checking account fees, debit card usage fees, fees to talk to a person, wire transfer fees, monthly maintenance charges.

Forget that. Fight living death by fees!

Consider switching to an online bank as long as you’re comfortable with lack of a branch location to walk into. I haven’t used a brick & mortar bank in years.Good riddance.

Check out the best online banks and checking accounts at www.nerdwallet.com.

Make sure the bank you choose is covered by FDIC and you don’t breach the coverage limit which is $250,000 per depositor.

Also, banks currently are not required to play by the rules – due to suspension of accounting rules whereby assets on the books are not priced to what the market would actually pay for them, there are banks that most likely are insolvent (or dead) yet still alive!

Plainly, if it wasn’t for the suspension of this rule called “mark to market,” poor performing banks with liabilities exceeding what assets are worth, would have been truly dead a long time ago and not still occupying a location near you.

When I was ten, mom would leave me home alone on Friday and Saturday nights until she found out my babysitter and her girlfriends were dancing naked in front of me during late-night TV’s Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

What did I know? I was pre-occupied with covert G.I. Joe missions. I never minded the
nude dancing. I’d glance over once in a while. It looked fun and free. I was scared to be
alone on occasion but mom needed her boy time I guess.

I owned the most extensive G.I. Joe collection in the neighborhood until my mother
made them disappear one by one. She was like a sniper/kidnapper the way she picked them off along with my other toys.

Especially cool were the Joes with fuzzy hair and beards. I never really embraced the Kung-Fu Grip line of brave soldiers for some reason.

gi joe hair

We recently moved to a second floor apartment adjacent to a stairwell. The halls on weekend nights were lively, especially after midnight. Kids making out, the occasional marital fight spilling out, enriched with curse words bouncing off hallway walls, outright screaming.

I can still remember the first time I watched “Night of the Living Dead” on an ABC Saturday evening late show. The idea of zombies was sort of goofy to me before then. I believe I watched Scooby Doo trip one up on morning television. To me they were clunky cartoon relief. In black and white, late at night and thirsty for blood, zombies gained more of my respect. Scooby Doo was either brave or just a dumb ass.

It was that  damn, dead woman at the top of the stairs. The devoured face. That eyeball staring at me, piercing me through an old RCA Television screen.

top of stairs

My perception of zombies had changed. Forever. They haunted me from that moment.
If I would have known how popular they were to become, I would have given up on this
money management business a long time ago. There was a fortune still yet to be made exploiting the undead.

According to the blog “24/7 Wall Street”, zombies are worth over $5 billion to the economy. Costumes, movies, novels, comic books, video games, television shows. All serious business.

From cult following to popular mainstream, the dead overpower the compensation of any cadre of top U.S. corporate CEOs who now make 400x what you do.

Oh no, I’m convinced. Zombies are here to say. Let’s review the lessons.

Random Thoughts:

1). Zombies represent our human weaknesses and loss of control over our environment. During periods of economic distress, their popularity festers. Fear of loss, lack of confidence, subpar gainful employment are prevalent today and will be as we slowly emerge from a housing, financial, credit, banking crisis atomic blast.

2). The living dead represent the vulnerability that lives deep inside our guts. It’s the human condition pushed to extremes. It’s the threat of loss. The loss of our ability to be human. A test under severe pressure. Up against the wall, you find out who you truly are.  At this time, many of us feel vulnerable in our jobs, with our incomes, our relationships. In these times, zombies demand our full attention.

3). Understand what rots you. Stuck in a cubicle overseen by mindless middle management bosses, abrupt changes to your income, excessive debt, negative people, bad health choices. Hell, you think zombies are scary? Try to have an intelligent conversation with your boss. See if he or she can think independently from the infection swallowed daily from the corporate “stink” tank.

4). Political turmoil stirs the zombie hoards. Didn’t George A. Romero effectively teach us this lesson? There exists less faith in our leaders regardless of political party. Uncertainty allows the walking dead to herd, gain strength in numbers. In certain states, they may be allowed to vote. I’m not sure.

5). The economic system is still rotted and dragging dead feet. Five years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the economy is still shuffling slow like a zombie in the August Texas sun. Below average economic growth, structural underemployment, first-time homebuyer malaise, below-average or non-existent employee wage growth, real median household income off 7% from 2008. This isn’t a healthy state of affairs, everyone. Actually, it’s fucking disappointing.

6). Corporations are now zombie factories. Especially the publicly-traded ones. Hey, as a money manager I love how corporate leaders hoard labor, work current employees to exhaustion, utilize financial alchemy like purchase back stock shares to boost earnings-per-share and stock prices. As an employee herding in a work force where labor is plentiful, where an individual can be replaced at any time by someone willing to accept half the pay, I would fight like hell to get out before the zombie infection takes me and I’m gnawing on an arm by moonlight.

arm gnaw

7). It’s acceptable to go brain dead on a schedule. We’re an overworked society; people don’t take vacation anymore. Americans fear for their jobs when they take time away from their technology to be with their family. Set aside a few hours every week to indulge in a guilty pleasure. Hell, eat a pizza in your underwear. Drip salsa on your shirt and suck it off. Whatever.

1:00AM: The hall outside my apartment was especially loud. During commercials I checked the peephole but saw nothing. Then, from out of nowhere, it sounded like a sledgehammer at the front door:

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

I couldn’t breathe. I was paralyzed. I hit the red shag face down. I sought to go deep believing if I was part of the carpet, I couldn’t be discovered.

I belly crawled to the kitchen to knock the red Bell Telephone Trimline off the hook.

Thank god for extra-long pigtail phone cords. One tug and the receiver would be mine.
Stay calm. Hit the neat little lighted buttons for 911. Brooklyn’s Finest would arrive quickly to save me from the zombie with a weapon.

red trimline

Then it stopped. As fast as it started the pounding stopped. The banging went dead. On
my television I saw hero Ben lighting a corpse on fire using a makeshift torch. Was I going to need to take notes? I could use a G.I. Joe as a torch. I bet that fuzzy hair would go up quick.

I was hesitant to call the police now. I was upright. I walked slowly back to the sofa facing the television. It was eerily quiet outside.

I crawled to the front of the apartment and looked underneath through lit-sliver between door and floor. Nobody. Nothing. No sound except for a heart pounding in my ears. I stayed pinned down. Not blinking.

And Ben died. Shot through the head. Just like that.

The next day I discovered there was an arrest close by. The ex-babysitter’s boyfriend had broken into several apartments. Items were stolen. Supposedly he was looking for a place to hide and thought he could take refuge in my apartment. He thought the babysitter still had a standing appointment with me.

That was the first and last time I was glad a young woman wasn’t around dancing naked in front of me.

That was the first and last time I was glad about a decision my mother made.

Fire the babysitter.

bad babysitter

 

 

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

Featured

“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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

“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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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 Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).

Featured

“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

The Colors, The Times, of Your Life – Will You Remember?

Featured

We were free. Moving quick in a white hot breeze. 1977. When the world flew by in lime green.

Slit through a black bowel of public housing. Deep in the middle of the aged carnival colors of blueviolet, aquamarine and bisque. Coney Island. A narrow way forged between the metropolis, slick brown with rot. The summer New York heat penetrated, bounced from dead, white alley cats forming a yellow haze floating neon pungent sluggish slow in still heat. Bright orange, with a burst of unhealthy steel-gray around the edges, like a healthy pink hue that hesitantly abandoned its soul, was there too. Cats and garbage rotted just that way in July. In 1977. In Coney Island. I remember.

The odor scorched the outer part of our pink nostrils until they flared red. But we didn’t care because this moment was designed to be fleeting. The clear blue of escape from a place we should not have been, was near. And as long as that moped motored us out  in one piece, alive, all the Sunday ritual – staring at the newly-painted off white walls behind the rich, marbled altar of St. Simon & Jude’s Church would have been worth it.

Until.

black out NY

Boom! Black.

The lights went out. A deepest black seeped in from the edges. Beige smoke rose above. From everywhere. It suffocated us like a color. Purple maybe. Stopped us dead. Frozen.

Then.

Restless white noise. Muffled sounds of agitated souls. Blood-red anger.

Frenzied, white round bursts of bright. Scattered. Flash lights cutting through, getting closer, like silver shards.

In the dim gray mist of yesteryear, when lapels were wider than a McDonald’s Happy Meal and Mayor McCheese still held power over us.

“We need to get out of here. In there,” I pointed. And kept pointing and she knew what I was pointing to. What I meant. Like she could see through midnight blue.

“Fuck no,” she said. A spanish, italian, puerto-rican fire mix of black-coal eyes, deep brown bouncy curls in red spandex and cherry-red heels.

“If you don’t get in the dumpster you’re getting raped and I’m getting robbed,” I said. Heels off. She moved. The color of imminent danger was crimson with dark-red daggers.

We dove boldly into the acrid stench of the mix. Eggplant in color, wet, with sticky blotches of yellow green. The lime-green Puch Moped that was to take us into the wild blue now secured behind the jungle-green metal coffin for the discarded muck public housing didn’t  want. Too much green. We puked. The gagging color of cloying hot crimson arose in our noses and throats.

A city summer. In the blackest of blackouts. 1977. I remember the gray shades of memories. The colors brought me back. To an alley. When looters almost discovered a boy, a moped and a girl’s saturated skin with Love’s Baby Soft (always smelled cotton-candy pink to me). All this clear vision from a lone lime-green bicycle I barely noticed. In a driveway. Yesterday. In Houston, Texas. A million miles away – faded into a lemon chiffon of time.

love's baby soft

Oh the colors, the colors. Perfect.

Colors have the astounding ability to anchor you back to a time and place for as long as you live. No matter how far to the past you venture. Colors are seeds that blossom the past to the present, immediately. Sort of like songs. Sort of like a person you love, or cherish. If you remember the colors, you’ll know what you feel about a moment is true. And real. Even when others doubt you. Even when you doubt you. The colors make it true. And true is slate blue.

Random Thoughts:

1). How will colors conjure up the past? Today I re-lived the memory of a first dinner. I smelled the thick tapestries of dark & tomato reds. The rich browns of hair and delicate tan of lines, of form, of grace. I’ll never forget the fire-brick colors of what ignited in mind and heart. The reams of gold in the conversation. I re-live those pigments every day.

2). Red & green are the colors of money. When stock markets are green, as they have been since the fiscal cliff (version 1) concluded, I use green to trim growth and profit. When there is red again, a trickle of crimson in the streets, I’m motivated to buy. Use the reds & greens to make smart financial decisions.

3). How will today’s colors form your future? Be careful with the colors you use today to form the thoughts that move you forward. Today I’m staring at coral, firebrick, and forest green from my windows. All soothing, positive colors to me. I’ll make it my business to avoid true dark shades today.

4). What colors will propel you to thank someone today, love someone, be grateful for a communication, a note, one positive word. Close your eyes. Think of those colors. Shamelessly relive the good memories tomorrow of how you changed someone’s attitude. For the better.

Like it’s 1977.

Because times were good.

Because we lived to escape.

The blazing yellow sun eventually showed us the way.

To the blue.

Back on course and lime-green.

Once again.

Like you.

And your memory.

Lime Green Puch Moped

A Folded Cardboard Holiday. Four Ways to Stay Alive at Christmas.

Featured

I’m sort of numb at Christmas.

grumpy christmas

The holiday has clearly lost some of its sparkle.

Christmas reminds me how relationships, like antique glass ornaments, can so easily shatter. Shiny bright one day, swept up in a Dyson the next. As if the sparkle never existed. Unfixable.

The systemic problem with Christmas is it stirs ancient thoughts and ignites the mental bias called anchoring. I dare you to gaze at a tree ornament that you’ve unpacked every year over the last ten (or longer) and not recall “the moment.”

Such strong feelings. The weeks up to Christmas drain me like walking in heavy boots through 5 feet of wet snow. You recall ghosts of holiday celebrations past. Decades merge; 1982 is a freaking blip ago.

The weather the day you first hung the ornament from the artificial Christmas tree; you re-live that, too. The eye color, hair shade, smell, of the person who bought that holiday trinket to make you smile; now the damn thing has a life of its own, and holds a wealth of memories you would sooner forget. But you can’t. The person who bought it is either missing (by choice), dead, or probably has long forgotten the purchase (also by choice).

Admittedly, most of the year you don’t think about it. Until..

You resurrect decorations from the yellowed plastic tomb stored in the garage. From a container marked “CHRISTMAS CRAP.” Then you’re back in the moment and usually it isn’t good. Oh, you can throw the shit away, who would care? But you don’t. Sullen, you hang it again from a tree branch. Another year.

Stab me with a candy cane, it’s fine: I can take it.

This year after exhuming a memory, I lost track of the day. It was silly; I realized I had been sitting on the dusty floor of my garage for an hour and a half. Lost in space, missing time, stuck in “the moment.”

santa slay Awww

Even cardboard can pull the past into the present. At a friend’s house recently, a collector of vintage kitsch, a flood of past holidays washed over me. There in the corner, looking as new as the ancient day it was originally unfolded, was a Christmas adornment I haven’t seen in at least a decade.

Funny, when I saw it I immediately became mired in a tinsel-laden time warp. I went speeding through holiday backroads; exiting at 1972, the year I first admired my own cardboard and electric (what a lethal combo),

cardboard fireplaceFireplace!!!!!

It was a lousy Christmas. My mother after a week-long binge of booze and pills came home from God-knows-where, focused on the fake Christmas tree I just finished decorating. She picked it up from the middle pole and like some form of petite, brunette-elf weightlifter, flung it out our third-floor living room window. Graceful and horrifying at the same time.

I think there were like 6,000,000 lights secured around this thing. In fact, there were so many light sets attached that when the plastic-pine cliff diver advanced from the window, one of the light strings got caught on the way down causing the tree to swing back and forth about 10 feet from the ground like some type of sardonic holiday pendulum.

Two days after, a favorite cousin visited. A savior of sorts. He brought the fireplace along with small, wrapped gifts. On December 27, I had Christmas revisited thanks to Michael. We put together the fireplace, secured the lightbulb behind fake flames. It might as well had been the real thing. The warmth was real. A cousin made my holiday.

I never forgot.

Maybe good things come out of Christmas memories after all.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tell People you Love them. Now. Today. Even when they don’t feel the same. Even if they walk away. Even if they don’t respond.Today is the day to tell them exactly what they mean to you and you’ll be there for them because your heart and soul can’t change. It won’t change. Don’t compromise.

2). Christmas is not a day, or a holiday, it’s a mindset. The harsh glow of bad memories are fine even if they pierce like extra-pointy tips of holly. The rotten ones are tough yet you must look beyond them and work hard find the lessons that move you forward. Embrace what was and analyze how it made you the person you are today.

3). In times of despair, who will save your holiday? Be open to the signs. Be open to those you’ve been closed to before. You never know the lessons they’ll teach you, the memories they’ll create for you when you unpack aged ornaments next Christmas.

4). Now is the time to tie up loose ends. With people. With money. Step back. Foster ties with those who create energy, and cut away the ones who take it away. On occasion, you’ll be the one who’s cut and never truly understand why. There’s a humility, a frailty to being cut. It feels hopeless. Like a Christmas tree cast from upper floors. Then, out of nowhere – hope emerges. What a surprise.

At the end of the year, it’s a good idea to double-check the beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance policies. It’s also an opportune time to decide how you’re going to increase your contributions to retirement plans or work to pay off credit card debt in the new year.

My middle name is Michael.

I demanded my mother have it changed after that Christmas in 1972. She obliged out of guilt. It was a way to always keep a special cousin in my heart.

After losing contact with Michael years ago, I found out that he died in 2008.

Alone. From AIDS.

In a motel room in upstate New York. He was dead a week before they found him.

I wasn’t there. I never knew.

I missed my chance to tell him how much I loved him. How much he saved me that day.

I sent him a message from my heart, as I stared, lost in another place, at a friend’s cardboard fireplace.

I asked Michael to forgive me. I thanked him for what he did for me.

Don’t miss your chance.

Today’s the day..

Your day to unfold love, gratefulness, blessings.

A day to find your fireplace. Your hearth.

Light it.

God Knows Where You Belong (Even When You Don’t).

Featured

September 1970: “Shut the fuck up back there!”

Image

It was a cavernous black-on-black metal beast out of Detroit. A 1969 Cadillac Convertible with slick leather seats. With each turn, lane change, interchange between brake and acceleration, my little body was slung from side to side in the backseat (we weren’t fans of seatbelts back then) like an amusement ride just for me.

Every year, it was an adventure I looked forward to. A chance to escape the urban filth, the smell of incinerated used Kotex pads, the endless mounds of dog shit. A daddy/son adventure.

To upstate New York.

Where trees survived in packs and the air smelled sweet. The Catskills, specifically. The plan was always the same: First, the Catskill Game Farm (now gone), then Carson City (gone too), and last, a small retail establishment named “Roy’s,” which only sold stuffed animals.

Hundreds of them. I’ll never forget behind the front plate-glass window sat a monstrous black stuffed gorilla with a five-foot yellow banana. And I mean huge. With arms open wide, this cloth beast spanned the entire length of the store.

Image

I couldn’t sit still for the entire trip. I loved to read the billboards, especially the quirky homespun wooden relics as we traveled farther north. It was only a matter of time before the iconic Catskill Game Farm billboard appeared. I mean it was “America’s Greatest Zoological Playground,” for God’s sake.

The radio stations would ebb and flow in on crackles and frequency farts. Most important was dad to turn up the volume when my favorite song hit the airwaves. It was a song my dad hated. It was a song Brooklyn hated.

“Beneath this snowy mantle, cold and clean.”

What the fuck is this kid listening to?” Dad.

Anne Murray sings again in that memorable, soothing tone:

“The unborn grass lies waiting, for it’s coat to turn to green.”

“Oh, I’m changing this shit!” Dad again.

It was a song my friends hated. It just didn’t belong in an urban setting. But to me, it represented something clean, natural, open.

Like when I watched my favorite early Saturday morning television program, “Agriculture USA,” a show about farming that unnaturally appeared on New York City 6AM television.

“The snowbird sings the song he always sings…”

“What the f**k is this snowbird?”

And now we’re swerving. In a tank. On a dysfunctional family adventure.

Dad was always up early. He sought to be out the door before mom. He’d walk into the living room. See me sitting cross legged, staring up at the old black and white TV screen, watching the farm report.

                                       “Who the hell are you? You don’t belong here.”

He never meant anything bad by it. I sort of knew that. And he was correct. I never felt like I belonged in a dirty city. I hated people living on top of people. I longed for something more quite, desolate. Even at six years old I sought escape. Dad was indeed correct. I often wondered if God misplaced me. Must have been some celestial joke.

Oh, the song:  It was “Snowbird.” Lovingly recorded by Anne Murray in 1970. Written by some dude in Canada (where I always believed there were lots of trees).

The opening was distinct. Later I discovered it was an electric sitar. Soothing.

The first lyrics. Hopeful. Let’s play it again. Or as a DJ on WABC radio in New York would coo in a broadcast – “Let’s hit the instant replay!” Exciting.

Beneath it’s snowy mantle cold and clean,
The unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green.

Cold and clean. Not dirty and hot like the grime on a New York City street. No dog crap in “cold and clean.”

More refreshment. Get me out of here:

Spread your tiny wings and fly away.

And take the snow back with you where it came from on that day.

Yes, spreading my tiny wings would have worked.

Flying away would have been terrific.

Random Thoughts:

1). Our  souls must be from somewhere else and occasionally dropped into the wrong vessel. It took 40 years for me to be comfortable in my own skin even though I believe (still) it was not my own. Who has mine? Please contact me. I’d really like it for my second half.

When your country spirit is placed into a city kid or vice versa, shit is gonna happen. Your self esteem is going to be battered. You’re going to be on the outside looking in most of the time. And then it happens. You’re grateful that you’re a square dropped into a circle.

The experience formed something unique, a way to interpret life different from everyone else’s. It gave you the appreciation of people’s faults, to see the beauty in them. If you were “misallocated,” have you become aware of your gifts, yet?

2). You’ll be a better investor. If you’re comfortable in your own or someone else’s skin – you’ll better understand your very human pitfalls and realize how they will kill your investment returns. Turn your clean virgin snowbird into yellow and black snow; nature’s afterbirth stuck to the bottom of a NYC taxi.

Individual investors aren’t “dumb,” just humans not equipped to handle the skin of investments. Morningstar, the mutual fund “gurus,” completed a study  that fund investors are indeed good at selecting funds (imagine that). They just are not “in their own skins,” when they allocate. In other words, they consistently buy HOT categories and sell  COLD ones. Can you believe it?

We like hot and sexy instead of cold and sterile? When it comes to investing some of your best returns come from COLD. And cold is cleansing.

3). Your home is your home. And that home is in you. Until you’re comfortable with who you are in the housing you’re given, you’ll never feel secure, confident or stand for the people you love or the convictions you hold dear.

Never.

Those Catskill locations are long gone.

Carson City, a simulated wild west town, is now home to a bunch of condos.

Yet somewhere in a room, in my store of memories in whoever’s skin I’m in, those places are as real as they ever were.

And even if the rightful owner of my shell comes to return it, there are some things I refuse to give back.

Because for now and going forward, I’m home.

Are you?

Image

Stop Thinking Now – 3 Ways to Shut Down and Live Again.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death,” Eckert Tolle.

Reliving the past is draining. After I recall memories of the past to write a blog in my present, I can feel brain cells dying. I can sleep for two hours. The world loses color like I’m living in a black & white movie. Everything becomes one dimensional. The spirit and gift of the present-gone.

Focusing on the future and where you want to be is exhausting. And then when the future becomes the present you can’t enjoy it and you’re edgy-ready to focus on the future again. It’s the fucking hamster wheel of our nature but then sooner or later the hamster dies and the mate in your Habitrail feeds off your carcass.

It’s time for you to live in the present. Shake off the…

View original 943 more words

God Knows Where You Belong (Even When You Don’t).

Richard Rosso:

Every year, it was an adventure I looked forward to. A chance to escape the urban filth, the smell of incinerated used Kotex pads, the endless mounds of dog shit. A daddy/son adventure.

To upstate New York.

Originally posted on Random Thoughts of a Money Muse:

September 1970: “Shut the fuck up back there!”

Image

It was a cavernous black-on-black metal beast out of Detroit. A 1969 Cadillac Convertible with slick leather seats. With each turn, lane change, interchange between brake and acceleration, my little body was slung from side to side in the backseat (we weren’t fans of seatbelts back then) like an amusement ride just for me.

Every year, it was an adventure I looked forward to. A chance to escape the urban filth, the smell of incinerated used Kotex pads, the endless mounds of dog shit. A daddy/son adventure.

To upstate New York.

Where trees survived in packs and the air smelled sweet. The Catskills, specifically. The plan was always the same: First, the Catskill Game Farm (now gone), then Carson City (gone too), and last, a small retail establishment named “Roy’s,” which only sold stuffed animals.

Hundreds of them. I’ll never forget behind the front plate-glass window sat…

View original 913 more words