Chapter 8 – Your money is your friend
Once you slow down your consumption of material goods and learn to find happiness within yourself, you will find you have more money to save and invest. You will be able to do much more with what you have and you will be surprised that more will follow.
Your external wealth will naturally build as you begin to invest and save the money you would have previously wasted building your facade.
There is a television show that presents a person, or couple, each week who are living what they feel is the good life. Almost each situation presented is the same. A person determines that the life they had been leading, while externally successful, was leaving them internally empty. At some point in life they decide that their future happiness is more important that what they have and they chuck their life’s baggage. They follow their dream, which involves hard work and some sacrifice and find the inner satisfaction and peace that had eluded them for so long. It is scary to have that much dedication or guts to throw your current life away to follow your dream. What kind of guts does it take to never take action to make your life better? Are you a coward or a hero?
“If you never take a shot, you’re guaranteed not to score.”
I know a guy who worked a steady corporate job and was not satisfied with his life. He did something about it. He decided that what he really wanted to do was be a movie critic. You’d think that movie critics would be a dime a dozen. I mean, isn’t everyone a movie critic?
He and his wife had many frightening conversations about his leaving a regular paycheck behind. He worked for the U.S. Government and everybody in Washington pretty much knows you almost never get fired from a government job. So the household income was slashed and his wife carried the burden of making enough money to keep the lights on and food on the table. More importantly, they agreed to change their lifestyle so their needs fit their income.
During the day, the hopeful movie critic would drive to a theater to watch a preview of an upcoming movie with other local critics. He’d take along a small tape recorder and swear into it. Actually, he was tracking the number of swear words and other nefarious stuff so when he got home, he would track and rate the vulgar language. You see, his niche was doing movie reviews for parents to give them a clue about what was actually in the movies before their kids saw them. The idea was to inform the parents in advance so they knew if the movie was appropriate for their children. His reviews include the amount of swear words, violence, sex and so forth. His wife would ask, “How was your day honey?” His answer: “I saw a movie and it had only 24 ‘F’ words, 14 ‘S’ words, 10 ‘H’ words and 4 ‘SOBs.’”
His wife: “That’s nice, dear.”
After about a year of swearing in the dark, his income rose from nothing to about twice as much as he made at the steel grey government job. He was making more money than he had hoped for; his career shot through the roof; and he was pursuing his dream. Best yet, he got paid to curse and looks forward to putting his pants on every day and going to work.
If you just read that last section and you are thinking of quitting your job to follow your dreams, keep reading. The vast majority of clients I have worked with over the years have failed businesses. Basically, it was because they were running from something rather than running toward their passion. They had this perception that being your own boss is fabulous and you get to work leisurely hours.
Creating and growing a business is really hard work. When I started Myvesta in 1994 in the attic of my old, tiny, cramped house. We worked every day of the week and twelve hour days were the norm. A national holiday was just another day you worked but got caught up on your backlog because the phone didn’t ring as much.
So you see that with passion and a lot of hard work, it is possible to chase your dreams and catch them. You’ve just got to be smart about it. When you work at something you love, you will love to work. If you love your work you will be a happier person and closer to achieving the state of inner prosperity I’ve been talking about.
WEALTH: INTERNAL PROSPERITY’S LITTLE DIVIDEND
Once you have gained internal prosperity, external wealth is actually very easy to achieve. Think about the stories of the forklift operator who retires at age 70, dies a year later and donates 15 million dollars to some charity. How did he do it? Easy. He saved almost every dime he made and invested it. It doesn’t take a financial planner with a three-battery calculator to figure out if you eat macaroni off paper plates, send people back the Christmas cards they sent you last year and never take a vacation, you can build up a nice nest egg. That example is a little extreme, but I hope it makes the point.
The best way to grow your net worth is to work with a financial professional who understands that slow and steady investing wins the race. There are plenty of books available on the technical side of investing and you have no problem finding gurus, pundits and other help.
Your parents never told you the truth about money because they didn’t know it. It wasn’t a conspiracy and they didn’t avoid telling you because they hated you. Most kind and loving parents simply fake their way through life when it comes to money.
I have assisted many families with money issues over the years. It’s not unusual for mom and dad to be clients, but the kids need help also.
Bless their hearts, parents do the very best they can with the limited information they have at hand. So where did they learn about money? Probably from their parents, an advisor, advertisements, a class or two a few years ago, commercials, watching PBS, their gut and maybe some home study on personal finance. What kind of messages are you going to get about money from that kind of education? Not very clear ones.
Watching shows or taking classes about managing your money are a lot like watching home improvement shows. I love to watch “This Old House.” Over the years they’ve educated me about all sorts of home improvement tasks, but there is no way in the world I would actually do most of that stuff. Just because they taught me doesn’t mean I learned. Some things are best left to professionals.
So if you never learn about how you subconsciously use money to manipulate, enhance your image, or even as a substitute for honest emotions, you are never going to understand the truth about money. If you didn’t read this book, where would you learn it?
Probably at the commencement ceremony as you receive your Ph.D. from the School of Hard Knocks.
Who is going to clue you in? “Vanna, is there a Z?” Buzzzzz. It’s hard to find a trusted advisor.
WHO DO YOU TRUST AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO WATCH OUT FOR?
How do you find people you trust? People have been deceived and misled by people who have degrees from all the best schools, work in all professions and come from all walks of life. Recently, a town discovered that the guy who was running a funeral home and was getting paid to cremate bodies was dumping them in the woods and giving the families urns full of gravel. Yikes!
SO HOW DO YOU FIND PEOPLE WHO YOU CAN TRUST?
The majority of people are good souls who try to do the right thing most of the time. But you always have a responsibility to educate yourself about the service for which you are paying. I’m always a big fan of a second or third opinion. If you feel unsure about the advice or guidance you’ve been given, ask someone else with comparable skills for their educated opinion. The truth and the path you should follow is probably a blend of the advice you receive from multiple sources.
If you wanted to ask people questions to screen them out you’d have to ask them the following questions and hope they would answer them honestly.
- Why do you do what you do?
- Are you going to mislead me just to make the sale?
- How badly do you want my money?
- Are you happy?
- Do you really know what you are doing or are you just faking it?
People shoot themselves in the foot all the time because they are always looking for the cheapest advice or service and then they are disappointed when it turns out to be less than they expected. You simply can’t be surprised by that. When you are looking for advice and guidance, don’t shop by price alone, that’s just foolish. Good people who don’t charge a fair rate for their services have issues. They don’t value their time and if their time and advice is not valuable to them, why would it be valuable to you?
Let’s look at some common types of financial advisors people turn to and the hidden motives these folks can have.
Before you get your britches all twisted in bunches, dear reader, I want you to know that there are lots good folks out there you can trust. You’ve just got to search around a bit.
Financial Planners & Stock Brokers – Some are only looking to make the sale. They are interested in getting their hands on your money and create a lot of fees managing your money. If you don’t have a bunch of money already, most don’t want to waste their time with you.
Banks and Credit Unions – Some employees get bonuses and commissions from maxing out their customers. They want to prevent customers from being able to afford to move their business to another bank or credit union. Bonuses are also awarded for giving out credit cards, debit cards or more accounts. Banks and credit unions need to make money to stay in business, so they push their products, like any business. They do it to make the sale, not necessarily to maximize your rate of return.
Credit Card Companies – You cannot be surprised when a credit card company approves you for a line of credit that you later feel you can’t afford to repay. When you agreed to take them up on the offer, you agreed to the card and its terms. You agreed to repay the money. If they gave you a credit limit that was too high, you can say “No way.” If you think the credit limit is too high, ask them to lower it. Deep down, you might feel tempted by the available money if you are still using money to create a façade of happiness and success. And if money still is a vehicle for you to use to act out your inner conflicts, guess what? Chances are pretty good you’re going to get in over your head.
Lawyers – Lawyers are legal experts and most are not financial professionals. If you need to draw up a legal document, to be represented by counsel or to have the law interpreted, call a lawyer. But if you are dealing with money and investing, bring your question to a professional who is qualified to answer it.
Credit Counselors – Credit counselors are not financial experts. Almost all are lay people who only use one tool, a debt management program, as the sole solution. This is just a payment consolidation program in which creditors dictate the terms you get. It is not real help. Every year we hear from so many people who were incorrectly told to file bankruptcy by a credit-counseling program. This advice is given after a cursory review of your budget by someone who may simply be sizing you up only to see if you can afford their payment program.
Mortgage Companies and Other Lenders – The age-old justification for getting big mortgages and car loans is that they are good debt. Who are you kidding? If you go out and buy a big house and fancy car because you want to project a false image and pretend to be successful, go right ahead. Just don’t talk yourself into believing that it’s a good move or that the lender is to blame when you get in over your head. Secured lenders are more than happy to let you wander out on a limb because if you don’t pay, they will take your house and your car. You are not so important in your town or life that it won’t happen to you. If you abuse money and get in over your head, you will lose. It will create pain in your life and in the lives of the people who care about you.
CREDIT CARDS DON’T CREATE DEBT. PEOPLE CREATE DEBT.
Think about your available credit like an account at the neighborhood grocery store. Is it the grocery store’s responsibility to monitor your total food consumption or check the nutritional value of what you’re eating? Of course not. But isn’t that what you are asking credit card companies to do? “Mr. Rhode, we won’t sell you these Doritos. You’ve got to put them back. You’ve had more than your share of calories today.”
Think about it. Take responsibility. Be honest with yourself. I’m keeping the Doritos.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to money. Living your life by ratios and tables is insane. Live your life like it is your life.
There is no healthy percentage of what you should spend on cable, food, housing expenses, etc. The numbers you see in those suggested tables are just the geek’s view of your life.
Like I always say, the mean is mean. Nobody is average. The mean (average) is just the average of what folks spend. It does not mean that it is a recommended place for you to be. Stop living your life by tables and charts. Stop searching for who you should be.
Find who you really are and start living. If you need boundaries, use birth and death.
Everything else is up to you.
Live your life for maximum fun and enjoyment while balancing it out with prudence and responsibility. Take that magazine article you just read that told you to only spend 30 percent of your income on housing expenses and pitch it in thetrash can. You should not feel the least bit guilty if you spend more than the recommended average in a certain category, as long as you make adjustments elsewhere. The ultimate goal when it comes to money is to spend less than you make, save some for the future, grow it if you want to by investing it and HAVE FUN.
STEVE SAYS, “YOU SHOULD SPEND AS MUCH AS YOU CAN AFFORD”
OK, Steve, are you crazy? Is that an invitation to blow my paycheck? Because if it is, you are nuts. I’m not nuts and it’s not an invitation to foolishly blow your check. What your parents never told you is that you need to be a responsible spender. If you could get some balance in your money life, then you’d stop squirreling money away out of fear and you’d stop spending more than you can afford because you are bored, unhappy or deceiving yourself.
There is a balance. A balanced approach to money is a tool you can enjoy that will bring honesty, pleasure and safety to your life rather than lies, fear and depression.
I’m going to tell you what to do right now. I’m even going to give you an easy list to follow, but you will want to fold down this page so you can find it again. You might as well fold the corner down right now.
HOW TO HAVE AN HONEST RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR MONEY
- Ask yourself the pre-purchase questions from Chapter 5 before you purchase any luxury item.
- Have a good idea where your money is going. Track your cash.
- Measure how financially responsible you are by your levels of debt and available cash in the bank. One should be going up and the other one down. Guess which.
- Buy only those big items you are willing to lose. If life took an unexpected turn tomorrow, would you hold on too tight to the new item because it has a hidden meaning for you? Would you sacrifice good decision making just to have whatever it is? For example, you buy a nice home in a great neighborhood. Your income drops, but rather than downsize to live within your income, you sacrifice fun, you deprive yourself of a reasonable life, your family has to do without health care and other necessities just so you can keep your status symbol. Let it go. It will be all right. Just remember, the only guarantee that life gives you is that you die. Everything else is a bonus.
- Seek happiness. That means that you should spend some money to do stuff that brings you joy and not just temporary numbness. If you’ve always wanted to go on a cruise or a tropical vacation, then do it for the experience, not the status value. But do it within what you can afford to spend. For example, spend money having a professional photographer take a family portrait that will have a sentimental meaning for years to come rather than flashing some designer handbag or techno gizmo at your friends to show them how hip you are. Don’t spend money to send false images or signals to others. Spend money to feed your soul.
- Take the money you make, meet your obligations, save some and have fun with the rest. Live in the moment. I’ve seen too many people save and save for retirement, only to die six months after quitting work or getting sick before they are able to do those things they want to do. You can do both. Live today and save for tomorrow. If you simply focus on saving for tomorrow, then you won’t be able to live the rich and fulfilling life you want to live today. If you spend everything today, you won’t have anything for tomorrow. “Balance, Grasshopper.”
- Dream about what you want to do. Uncover a way that you can use your money to help you accomplish those goals without blowing what you’ve got, using credit or borrowing from family or friends.
Let me tell you a story about parting with your money. I remember standing in front of a counter debating about the purchase of a $600 video game system. “It’s a stupid purchase,” I said. “In a couple of months it will probably be out of date, there will be something better out there and I can save the money for something else.” I paced back and forth, up and down the aisle.
After I thought more about it, I bought the game system and here’s why. I decided I could afford to pay cash for it without shirking any other responsibility. So what if I did not use it a year from now? It was going to give my family a whole lot of fun and enjoyment until then. I decided that we really would use the game system and that it would allow me to convert my hard-earned money into healthy family fun. I’m glad I bought it, it was a blast. Life would be even better if I could master Frogger. I’m not sure there are enough hours in a day for me to do that. It’s amazing. I can straighten out people’s financial messes, but I can’t get that frog over the river and through the door.
The ironies of life.
Conclusion – Listen to Your Heart
Chapter 1 – I Got Hit in the Head With a Baseball and I Saw it Coming
Chapter 2 – What Your Money is Trying to Tell You
Chapter 3 – Take a Lap on the Gerbil Wheel of Debt
Chapter 4 – Why Money Doesn’t Make You Happy
Chapter 5 – If You Had a Million Rats, Would You be Successful?
Chapter 6 – The 10 Attributes of Internal Prosperity
Chapter 7 – The Attributes of Internal Prosperity in Action
Chapter 8 – Your Money is Your Friend
Conclusion – Listen to Your Heart