invest in what you know

Imagine you have $500,000 in cash and a mortgage of $400,000 – and no other debt of any sort. Your mortgage is at a low rate and fixed for 30 years. Should you pay it off? This subject is debated endlessly – whether paying off your mortgage early is a good “investment,” since tying up your money by paying off your mortgage keeps it out of the mythical guaranteed-over-20-years 10% return in the market. Fine, you can use whatever assumptions let you sleep at night.
But let’s take that to another level. If you have $30,000 and want to buy a car, and the dealer offers you a ridiculously low rate – say 2% or less – on financing, should you pay cash or finance? And let’s take that another step further – why wouldn’t you use a home equity loan at a low rate to fund your home improvements, or even buying a car while letting your money work in the market?

Creative Commons License photo credit: freeparking

Asking this question is not idle speculation. We DID recently pay cash for a new minivan – we have aggressively managed our cash and savings to put ourselves in a position where we can pay cash for everything. We have no desire to pay off our mortgage early since (a) we plan to move at some point and (b) we have a good rate. But should we have financed the minivan? Was locking up a large sum of cash like that a bad idea? I know it’s a depreciating asset that loses 50% of its value the second we drive it off the lot, yada yada. Our cash is now gone – flown out the door. On the other hand, we can look at our car and say that it’s done and paid for, which is a nice feeling.

I think a person’s attitude towards debt has something to do with the types of investments they’ll make and their risk tolerance. I’ve said before that my family’s beliefs about debt were hard-core fundamentalist: debt was pure evil. Even mortgages were necessary evils. Investing is done with cash in hand; real estate investing is foolish because you can’t play the game without using other people’s money.

I’ve come to realize that one of my greatest weaknesses in terms of wealthbuilding is lack of focus. Bear with me here. I talk with people who invest in real estate and they have a relaxed attitude towards taking out huge debt on investments. They’ve done their homework, studied the market, etc. – and then gotten a mortgage from the bank and bought. This is not something I think I could ever do; yet at the same time I have spent a lot of time trying to educate myself about real estate investing. There is no point. If I am going to continue to build wealth it has to be in ways that I am comfortable with because the necessary focus and discipline aren’t there, otherwise. I hate debt, and investing in real estate requires debt. On the other hand, I have no problem with investing in individual stocks – because I have a deep understanding of financial statements and the operations of public corporations from my experience in auditing. So why don’t I stick with worrying about strengthening my knowledge in the area I understand and appreciate, rather than the one that gives me the heebie-jeebies?

So I sit back and decide that having a unifying principle – like paying cash for EVERYTHING – not only helps me sleep better at night, it makes sense within my realm of understanding and expertise. Liquidity is not my goal: a lack of debt and investments that generate cash flow are. I’m going to stick to investing in what I know, and try to forget about areas that I don’t care for and I don’t understand that well, like real estate. I think I will get rich sooner doing that.

short term, long term

I confess that a lot of the advice I give on this blog is often something I don’t do myself. I’ll give a good example: on Memorial Day we had a bunch of relatives over and did a big “shashlik” – a Middle Eastern/Far East/former Soviet Union form of lamb shish-ka-bobs – had a few drinks of the little water and spent most of the day lounging around under a tent outside my townhouse, enjoying the first 80-degree day in the northeast this year. I didn’t think or worry about money, or this blog, or my financial freedom, or anything else, other than eating, having a few drinks and enjoying some leisure time under the sun.

I also bought a mountain bike and a child carrier seat this weekend (not frugal), and spent a lot of time riding around with Little Buddy exploring the neighborhood. It’s decent exercise – it’s not exactly jogging, but it’s fairly difficult considering we’re on a riverside and near the Atlantic, so we have harsh and heavy winds quite often. The point being: I was tired at the end of the day after eating FAR more than I have been accustomed to, exercising a lot and soaking up a lot of heat and humidity. Little Buddy was beyond giggly after receiving bike rides and Spiderman sunglasses to keep his eyes from tearing up.

So I lounged in my easy chair last night, glanced at my computer after a long day of eating, drinking and biking and thought of Brip Blap and decided “eh, forget about Tuesday.” In the same way I didn’t spend any time doing anything to better my financial situation, to make myself more fit or more wealthy. I chucked a day overboard.

I’m not really sure if this is a good idea or a bad idea. I’m not sure that I’m the type of person to devote myself single-mindedly to wealth-building. I think someone who WAS single-mindedly devoted wouldn’t MIND worrying about it. My brother-in-law, who’s a lifelong entrepreneur, fielded phone calls all day long about business ideas from his friends and business partners. I think he does a lot of this – I spent some time talking to him about his real estate investments and I was left, as I always am, a little bit dumbfounded by the amount of risk that risk-takers seem to take on without pause. I know a lot of people would say “oh, spend time with your family, don’t worry about tomorrow” – but is that short-term thinking? Should I be thinking about being financially free when my kids are in their early teens, or worried about spending a few extra hours with them now when they (based on my own experience) won’t really remember it?

But here’s the main question: am I a lazy git for jettisoning one of the last few free days before my next contract kicks in on watching the clouds, biking around with my son, eating shashlik and drinking vodka Russian old-school style? I don’t know. Part of me says no, it’s fine: life trumps the crass pursuit of money. Part of me says, yes, you’re a dope: first you waste a day here, then one there, then 10 years are gone and you’re whining about working until you’re 65. It’s a tough balance to strike. You want to be rich, but you want to enjoy it while you’re young; you want the enjoyment of running around with the kids and playing soccer instead of hammering away at your portfolio or working on your side businesses until you’re falling asleep at 3 am.

So it’s gone: Memorial Day is shot as a wealth-building day. I spent it drinking, eating, playing, talking and laughing. All well and good, of course, but then again it’s spent and it’s one more day I didn’t get any closer to financial freedom. I’m not sure sometimes that having financial freedom in my 50s and 60s is worth having nose-to-the-grindstone days in my 30s and 40s. Probably I’ll have a different opinion 20 years from now – if I’m still writing for this blog then you can check in and see.

The struggle between this long-term and short-term thinking is probably at the core of my mental struggle on a daily basis; trying to decide whether a short-term benefit outweighs a long-term benefit accompanied by short-term effort. Most people probably say fine, I’m going to charge this plasma TV or this Wii on my credit card and have fun TODAY – to hell with tomorrow, I’ll be old and won’t have any need for it then. Making that exchange once, or twice, or three times might be acceptable – but paying for your happiness today until you’re 65 or 70 is something I dread.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stewart

into the wild…without spending a lot of money

This post originally appeared on American Consumer News as a guest post. I wrote it at the end of summer, so I’ve updated it to be relevant for the beginning of summer, for those of us who live in temperate enough climates to consider camping in the summertime.

Camping is a frugal activity in the first place; compared to going shopping or heading to the movies or even going on vacation to the beach it’s practically free. Just imagine if you stepped away from the computer you’re sitting at right now for a moment and found yourself outdoors. Imagine the space, the quiet, beautiful nature scenes…but if you aren’t careful, also hundreds of dollars of camping equipment, gas money, fees, batteries and food! You can avoid spending a fortune before enjoying the outdoors, however.

Creative Commons License photo credit: oskarlin

  • First of all, when considering what equipment you need, look around your home. Too often, new campers will rush out and buy specialty outdoor gear and equipment. There is no need to buy specialty equipment for most of your camping needs. A pot is a pot! You can bring a pair of pliers for taking hot items off the fire. Almost anything you need for camping is probably lying around your house right now, other than a compass and a tent.
  • Consider renting your equipment. Renting is often a bad idea if you’re trying to be frugal, but consider renting items that you use infrequently. Maybe you usually go camping with your friends who own a large tent, but one weekend you go with a different set of friends who don’t have room for you in their tent. Rather than buying a tent that will go unused for a year or two at a time, consider renting one. You will pay a fraction of the price of buying new equipment – and as a bonus keep clutter out of your life!
  • Look online for “quitter’s goods.” As with many hobbies, many people leap with enthusiasm into camping only to wake up three years later with a giant tent they only used twice. Deals can be found on used camping equipment at all of the usual sites like eBay and craigslist. Their mistake can be your gain – and you are saving that equipment from ending up in a landfill somewhere!
  • Buy equipment off-season. Just like fashion, many sporting goods stores will be looking to unload their camping gear towards the end of summer or early autumn to make room for the winter items. Wait until it’s cold to buy and you can get some significant discounts.
  • Join a club. REI offers a membership club that pays back 10% of your eligible purchases as a ‘dividend voucher’ annually. Many sporting goods stores will have ‘frequent visitor’ cards that can save you money, as well.
  • Use space blankets. A high-quality space blanket reflects up to 80% your body heat back to you. Most of them weigh mere ounces and they are incredibly useful if it gets chillier than you expected, which can happen even in the summer. An emergency blanket will cost less than $5, and even a top-of-the-line blanket should not be more than $15.
  • Use solar powered lights and radios. Investing in solar lights and radios saves money on batteries in the end. Hand-cranked flashlights and radios work very well, too. Many of these devices can even be used to charge a cell phone or a PDA if you just cannot stay unplugged for a whole weekend!
  • Bring your own food and carefully plan your menu for each day. This may sound obvious but on longer camping trips people often run out of food or realize that they did not bring some ingredient for a meal they just have to prepare. Also, remember to bring plenty of food that does not need to be heated up to eat in case of rain! Making sure that you bring adequate supplies of food and drink to last your entire trip will definitely save money.
  • Carpool. Check online listings for your destination to see if carpooling is available. Quite often people living near to you will be willing to share a ride to your destination, and who knows? You might just meet some interesting new people that way, too. With the price of gas staying high, this may be one of your biggest money saving ideas for any trip.

Following these tips will help make your next trip to the great outdoors both fun and frugal. Get out and enjoy!

announcing the carnival of careers

I’ve started entering carnivals again with a vengeance, and I’ve noticed that there isn’t really a carnival that addresses careers (or lack thereof). The Carnival of Personal Finance does include a category for careers, but it’s aimed more at the financial aspects of careers. I am not trying to compete; my thinking was that a less finance-focused career carnival would be interesting. I decided to leap into the void:

Announcing the Carnival of Careers!

I’ve set up a homepage for the Carnival of Careers (still a work in progress), and you can enter submissions here at This carnival is designed to share posts and articles about career management, career stories, job information and work/life balance. All submissions to this carnival should be related to careers or jobs topics and specifically mention the concept. Any off-topic or unrelated submissions will not be included. All entries should be written within the last month and not submitted to any other blog carnival. Entrants are expected to link back to the host or they won’t be included in future carnivals. The submission deadline is each Friday at 11:59 pm, and the carnival will run each Monday. The first carnival will run Monday, June 2 and every Monday thereafter.

Please enter – you can submit entries for the inaugural column starting today! I’d love to see a strong carnival with a lot of interesting pieces about career management, workplace tips, managing work/life balance, even posts about how to ditch your career once you achieve financial independence!

I’m also looking for future hosts starting as early as June 9th, and every Monday thereafter. The only requirement is that you occasionally address career topics on your blog. Anyone who hosts will be added to the blogroll permanently. Please email me at bripblap…gmail (you can piece that together; hopefully the spambots can’t) if you’re interested.

And in other carnival news, my entries for the past week: at the Festival Of Frugality – If I Had A Car Edition my article about saving money on food was selected as an editor’s pick at the Festival! I should start keeping track of how many editor’s picks I get – surely there is a prize of some sort? I also had articles at the Carnival of Personal Finance: the Q & A edition and the Carnival of Money Stories.

6 ways to become famous

About a month ago, before I started problogging, I was walking in midtown Manhattan when I saw a strange sight: a young woman walking down the street singing at the top of her lungs. She was not particularly striking, but she looked about the same as most of the current pop stars if you took off the celebrity- makeup-artist applied makeup. Her voice was quite good; I’m not a fan of R&B music but she was belting it out well enough that I could appreciate the quality of her voice. I like music, and I listen to a lot of it in a lot of different genres. She wasn’t bad.

On the other hand, she looked crazy as hell. If you aren’t familiar with the modus operandi on New York city streets, here it is: if you see someone doing something crazy you just move on. You don’t stare, you don’t alter your walking path; you treat the guy screaming about the Queen of England’s control of the drug trade like you’d treat a lamppost – you just keep going. To notice is the cardinal sin. But I noticed. Maybe she was crazy, maybe she was just happy and didn’t care and maybe – just maybe – she was taking a chance on walking through Manhattan, a place lousy with movie stars and agents and whatnot (we were near the MTV studios, for example) and putting her voice out there where someone might here it.

I like this idea and choose to believe that’s why she was singing. Maybe that’s the key to being famous – being oblivious to the embarrassment. Was Britney embarrassed putting on that schoolgirl’s uniform for “One More Time?” That’s possibly a bad example… she doesn’t appear to have the embarrassement gene – but that’s one way to get famous: have no shame. Here are six more ways to get famous:

  1. Work hard. A lot of overnight success is the result of years of hard work. George Clooney spent 10 years acting in bad shows like “Facts of Life” and “Roseanne” before hitting the semi-big time as part of an ensemble cast in ER. His first movie role (The Peacemaker) was a bomb. He kept at it and today, of course, he can snore on camera for 90 minutes and have a hit.
  2. Get noticed. Look at Paul Potts. Take a shot by singing opera in a pop music contest. Get out there and do something different.
  3. Go off-road. Robert Kiyosaki said investing in index funds and worrying about debt were the marks of a poor person’s mentality. Whether you agree with him or not, it did get him noticed. Take a position different enough from the norm – and defend it well – and people will notice.
  4. Be successful. Warren Buffet is a clever guy, but let’s face it – the reason we listen to him is not his sparkling wit or his charming personality (both of which he has), but the fact that he is the richest man on the planet. If you succeed in your field, people will notice.
  5. Aim for a good hook up. Whether it’s landing the rock star hubby or the rock star agent, making sure you make the connections may make up for a lot. Johnny Depp got his start in acting while he was a struggling rock musician because his wife, a makeup artist, had a famous client who told Johnny he’d hook him up for acting gigs if the music wasn’t working out for him. That client? Nicholas Cage.
  6. Trust in yourself. If you want people to notice YOU, love yourself. If you project confidence, happiness, intensity and success people will love that. Take Kurt Cobain. He was obviously a guy in a lot of personal pain. Yet at the same time, when you heard him sing you heard a titan; he projected a massive, overwhelming personality through his music that made him a star. It never made up for the struggle in his personal life, true, but it was clear he knew what he was doing musically.

So if you want to be famous, be a little crazy. Sing out loud, introduce yourself to the friend of a friend of a friend who knows a producer, write a book. Not everyone wants (or needs) to be famous, but fame’s just like anything else in this life; if you want it badly enough and work hard enough to get it, you have a good chance at it. Just don’t forget your buddy Steve.

Creative Commons License photo credit: dtcchc

The Cambrian Explosion

From Wikipedia:

The Cambrian explosion was the seemingly rapid appearance of most major groups of complex animals around 530 million years ago, as evidenced by the fossil record. This was accompanied by a major diversification of other organisms. Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organised into colonies. In the following 70 million to 80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude, and the diversity of life began to resemble today’s.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Michael (mx5tx)

A half billion years ago, the only living things on Earth were, generally, pond scum. Life had been around for billions of years in the form of very simple living things, but evolution had ground to a halt. Nothing changed for a long, long, long, long time.

Then suddenly, some sort of event occured that scientists call “The Cambrian Explosion.” In the next 70 million years – an exceptionally short period of time, in terms of the history of the Earth – the number of species exploded. You had little critters, not just algae. You had trees, bushes, insects, all kinds of animals. And we have no idea why the jump occurred from single-celled pond scum to scurrying critters. None. Darwin said this event was the big, big, BIG hole in this theory. Some freak event happened and everything that’s come since originated from that funky timeframe.

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is taken as fact by most people. I do; to me, even if you believe in God Darwin makes sense. God’s complex enough to design evolution, I think. But even Darwin said the Cambrian Explosion cast some doubt against his theory of evolution. Life had dribbled along for eons without any change, then BOOM! Big change happened in a short period of time. Mutation must have exploded beyond any reasonable or possible level to make the Cambrian explosion occur.

Here’s my question: do most of us have a moment of Cambrian explosion in our lives? In my case, it happened when I read (completely by accident) Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It’s not that I was stupid about money – I had plenty of savings, I was making a lot of money and I was living relatively frugally (albeit with the almost obligatory-excessive Manhattan lifestyle in regards to social life). But I suddenly had a flash of inspiration: the goal was not to maximize my income from my job so I could maximize my spending, the goal was to maximize my LIFE by making my income sufficient to cover my expenses for the forseeable future.

That’s no small achievement, and to this day I would thank Kiyosaki for that insight. But that insight was driven by an external force, and I never would have found it without reading that book. Dumb story: why did I buy Rich Dad, Poor Dad? Because I had a child on the way and I searched on amazon for “finance for dads.” All I wanted was tips on 529s and similar things. I didn’t ever consider that the greatest gift I could provide my son was a mom and a dad who were financially independent and no burden on their kids, even though that’s probably the greatest gifts MY parents have given my brother and me.

Most of us do have a Cambrian explosion in us; a moment when some dumb chance (or divine intervention if you’re so inclined) strikes us and causes a staggering change in state. Make sure you’re open to it, ready for it and willing to accept it – even if things were working before and you don’t see the need for the change.

the simplest actions have profound effects

I wrote this post for The Giving Hands a few months ago. I really liked writing it since I care deeply (although I have a long way to go in implementing my concern) about the environment and I don’t write much about it at brip blap. People took issue with my point about foam cups, but I’ll let you be the judge!

Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Sometimes the simplest actions can have the most profound effects. A tiny nail can puncture a car tire and cause an accident. A handful of votes in Florida can change the course of history. And according to the infamous ‘Butterfly Effect’ even the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can change weather patterns across the US.

When we look at global warming, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways in which our small actions can help postpone the coming disaster. Too often people are intimidated by the enormity of global warming. Thinking of such vast and epochal changes can make our role seem insignificant or even unimportant. However, the road we are traveling down is propelled by countless individual choices, and if enough of these choices can be made for the good of the environment instead of for its harm, we may yet see some slowing of these troubling trends.

So the challenge is to help people identify the small changes they can make as a first step in the fight against global warming. Not everyone needs to attend a demonstration, or live like No Impact Man (although it couldn’t hurt to emulate a lot of what he does). Instead, try doing some of these simple steps yourself.

  • Take the stairs. The average office elevator consumes 350 watts of electricity to travel from one floor to the next, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. That’s enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for 3.5 hours.
  • Unplug your chargers. According to the US EnergyStar program, the chargers for cell phones, laptops and other rechargeable devices can use up to 20 times more energy than the devices themselves! They continue to actively draw energy as long as they are plugged in, even if the device is fully charged.
  • Unhook unused devices with remote control capability. 40% of the energy used by a TV in its lifetime will be used while it’s turned off.
  • Change your thermostat. When it’s hot outside, remember that a room cooled to 75 degrees Fahrenheit uses more than 25% more energy than one cooled to 78 degrees. And when it’s cold outside, for each degree you turn down the heat while you sleep your heating bill is reduced by approximately 1 percent.
  • Turn off the water before brushing. Every time you brush your teeth you use up to 5 gallons of water if you leave the water running.
  • Take a bath. A typical bath uses about 25 gallons of water. A typical 5-minute shower uses 50. Consider installing a low-flow shower head to cut back on shower water usage.
  • Switch out ONE light bulb. Replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL bulb reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,000 pounds over the lifetime of the bulb.
  • Skip eating meat for one meal. A pound of soy requires 250 gallons of water. A pound of beef requires an amazing 10 times that much water – 2500 gallons. The massive overuse of water doesn’t include the damage to other water supplies due to runoff from animal waste.
  • Use a foam cup for your morning tea or coffee. This one is surprising, but did you know that for each time you use a foam cup, you use 1/1000th as much energy as is needed to produce one ceramic mug? That means you need to use a ceramic mug 1000 times before you are ‘breakeven’ with the energy usage of a foam cup – and that is assuming you use an EXTREMELY water-efficient dishwasher and don’t wash by hand. So if you use a foam cup for 3 cups of tea or coffee before disposing of it, it’s significantly less wasteful of energy than if you used a ceramic mug EVERY day for 8 years before it breaks or is disposed of! The energy needed to create (and wash) a ceramic mug makes it less friendly to the environment than you might think.
  • Most importantly, convince one other person to look at this list and start making changes in their lifestyle. That is the biggest step of all.

sharpen your soft skills

The following is a post from Patrick of Cash Money Life. Like me, Patrick blogs on personal finance but includes a lot of posts on career management – recently he’s been chronicling his search for a new job leading right up to his resignation. His blog is in my short list of favorites; if you’ve been reading brip blap for a while you know I recommend it as a read, but if you’re new here you should check it out (or subscribe if you’re an RSS kind of person).

I recently went through the interview process with several companies. While I was interviewing with these companies, I realized something very important. While every employer seeks a different mix of abilities and experience from its employees, there is one common thing they all look for: Soft skills. Soft skills are the intangibles that you use every day to accomplish tasks. Communication skills, leadership skills, and teamwork are some common skills that employers screen for when interviewing job applicants. To put it simply, improving your soft skills increases your chances of being hired and keeping your job.

Creative Commons License photo credit: gwaar

Here are some soft skills, and ways to improve them.

Speaking. Verbal communication is highly valued by all professional organizations. Unfortunately, many people lack strong speaking skills. The good news is that you can easily improve with just a little practice. A great way to improve your speaking skills is to volunteer to give group presentations. Start small (within your team), then graduate to larger presentations. Another great way to enhance your speaking and presenting skills is to join Toastmasters International, which is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. They are located worldwide, so you should have an easy time locating a local chapter.

Listening. Often, the most important part of effective communication is listening. It is important to not only hear the message you are given, but to actively listen and understand the entire message. Many mistakes are made because people do not take the time to fully comprehend the message or instructions they were given. To improve your listening skills, pay attention to the speaker’s words and actions. You can learn a lot from body language. Allow the speaker to finish before responding or judging what they have said. Take notes and review them with the speaker to ensure you received the message as it was intended. Providing feedback allows you to mentally process everything you heard.

Writing. Strong written communication skills are paramount to success. It is important to be able to concisely convey your message in multiple formats including reports, letters, e-mail, online work and more. To improve your writing skills, take the time to proofread what you have written. Often many small mistakes can be corrected with a quick review. Utilize the built in spell check and grammar functions found in many productivity software applications. Other tips to improve your written communication skills include having another person proof read documents, submitting white papers to professional publications, and reviewing grammar rules online. A good place for this is Daily Writing Tips.

Leadership. Good leaders are hard to find. Leaders needs to be aware of more than just their role within a team, but how each member in the group contributes to a common goal and how to steer the group toward that goal. Some people say leaders are born and and they cannot be taught. I disagree. In fact, I think anyone can learn basic leadership skills, and some people may even grow to become great leaders. All it takes is exposure to leadership principles, the desire to lead, opportunity, and practice. To improve your leadership skills, begin with reading a few books or online articles about leadership. You can also consider taking a course at a local community college or as part of an MBA program. Once you have some leadership principles ingrained, you need to practice, practice, practice. Observe leaders in your workplace, volunteer to lead small groups and team efforts, and take on additional duties if necessary. Finally, do not confuse leadership with authority. You do not have to be the high man on the totem pole to be a leader.

Teamwork. Just as good leaders are essential to accomplish tasks in the corporate environment, so are solid team members. Even if your daily role is primarily one where your work alone, you need to be aware of how your work affects others. To improve your value as a team member, consider how your actions affect other people who are working on a related task. Do your actions help them or hinder them? Another great way to become a better team member in the workplace is to participate in group sporting events and other social activities.

There are many more soft skills

The soft skills listed above are some of the soft skills most frequently asked about during interviews. However, there are many more soft skills out there and it benefits you to recognize what they are and how to improve them. You can further break down soft skills into Personal Qualities and Interpersonal Skills: Personal Qualities are those which are inherent to the way you act on a day to day basis. These include personal responsibility, self-esteem, self-management, integrity, honesty, self-motivation, self-discipline, decision making, and more. Interpersonal Skills deal with your interactions with others. Some of these include: teaching and instructing, serving client and customer needs, negotiation, persuasion, cultural awareness, conflict resolution, etiquette, and more. Think about how you perform in the workplace. Your value to your employer is often driven not only by the degrees and certifications you hold, but how well you work and interact with others. Sharpen your soft skills. Improve your professional prospects.

10 career quotes, my take, and TGIF

In honor of everyone getting ready for Miller Time on Friday afternoon after a hard week punching out widgets for The Man, I collected a few career quotes and made a few comments. Working at home is no picnic. I’m woozy staying up until 10:30 thanks to a particularly demanding boss (Little Buddy) and my computer time is being heavily interrupted by Star Wars figure playtime (“Hi, Han, my name is Boba Fett. Hi, Boba Fett, my name is Han. Are we friends?”) But hey, it’s all part of the journey, so it’s all good. That’s my hippie-ism for the week. TGIF in spirit if not, in my case, in actuality.

The quotes (10, plus a bonus):

“Each of the professions means a prejudice. The necessity for a career forces every one to take sides. We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid.” -Oscar Wilde

I’ve found this to be quite true; people are so overworked that they make stupid decisions about their careers. It’s not that people are stupid, but the pressure and the stress make them ACT stupid. Big difference, same result.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” -Marilyn Monroe

Amen, Marilyn. I spent a lot of years working like a maniac at my career and amazingly, those TPS reports don’t curl up with me on a cold night. On the other hand, they don’t steal my covers.

“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life” -Hillary Clinton

Yes, that Hillary Clinton. I’m sure she enjoys a lot of free time outside of her political career (there is no sarcastic font), but hey, politicians are free to dispense all sorts of advice that they themselves don’t take. She makes a great point, though. Don’t assume that being the hotshot assistant manager for the Northeast III region is “a life.” It’s a great accomplishment… but it’s not “a life” if it doesn’t fulfill your goals.

“Desire! That’s the one secret of every man’s career. Not education. Not being born with hidden talents. Desire.” -Bobby Unser, 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner

Wish I had thought about this a little before completing 7 years of school for two degrees. Eh, actually I’m happy with my education but Bubelah and I have this conversation all the time, with the same result (I will be annoying and put it in all caps for emphasis’ sake): AMERICANS CONFUSE EDUCATION WITH ACHIEVEMENT. Just because you have degrees out the wazoo doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. My suspicion is that successful people would be successful regardless of where they went to school or whether they went at all. Some of the least successful people I know are very educated.

“No man can succeed in a line of endeavor which he does not like.” -Napoleon Hill

If you read brip blap, you know I really (really, really) admire Napoleon Hill and his work. This is a straightforward statement that sums it up. I have never been successful in my line of work – accounting and finance – to the level I could’ve been because, quite frankly, I am bored by it. I don’t hate it. I’m actually pretty good at what I do, and I can hammer away at exceptionally complex accounting and finance problems with the best of them. But I get very, very bored with it very quickly. Because of that I’ve been moderately successful instead of extremely successful.

“I think everyone should experience defeat at least once during their career. You learn a lot from it. ” – Lou Holtz

I remember when I experienced defeat. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t in my career, but when I was attending mathematics PhD school I woke up one morning and said “this is NOT for me.” I had never seriously considered a career path other than “college professor in some type of math/computer science/linguistics/other technical type of study.” I sat down with a piece of paper and started writing down what I wanted, how I could do it, and how quickly I could do it. I came up with going back to school, getting a BA in accounting and an MBA in accounting… in two years. Doing that, though, achieved one of my dearest dreams: years of traveling the world at somebody else’s expense. My “defeat” in not completing PhD school led to some great things in my life.  So Lou, the absolutely awful analyst and overrated coach, got this one right.

” I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career. I just feel that I don’t have anything else to prove.” – Michael Jordan

I have little to say to this except this: can you even begin to imagine what it feels like to say that? I can’t.

“Everything I have, my career, my success, my family, I owe to America.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

I’m not exactly an America-firster; I have some big problems with what my country has demonstrated about itself by making some poor electoral choices in 2000 and 2004.   At the same time, I’ve traveled around the world enough to know that it’s a humbling thing to realize that people all over the world dream of achieving something that we got through the dumb accident of birth: being an American (and this applies to Canada, too). I also doubly appreciate the privilege considering my wife and her family, who lost everything in the collapse of the Soviet Union but have rebuilt a middle class lifestyle in a little more than a decade despite coming to this country with nothing more – literally – than the clothes on their backs. America still has a lot going for it.

“My whole career can be summed up with ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ When you do not know better, you do not really worry about failing.” – Jeff Foxworthy

I don’t remember all of it, but I read an interesting interview with Foxworthy a while back. He was some cubicle dweller for IBM, I think, and was prodded by friends to give comedy a shot. A few redneck jokes later and he’s done alright. He said he had no idea of the odds against succeeding in comedy, and if he had he would have clung to his crap job for dear life.

“I don’t want to get into the habit of thinking about my career because when it comes down to it, it’s not that important. I could die tomorrow and the world would go on. I don’t want to separate myself from the rest of the world. If the world is not going too good, I’m part of that. I’ll be happy to take the blame. I’m along for the ride.” -River Phoenix

Er, I’m including this in the “how’s that working out for you” category. Don’t be along for the ride – the river can get bumpy and there are a few hard turns there. You need to keep a hand on the rudder (or whatever the boat-thingy that steers is called).

“I often thought that if there had been a good rap group around in those days, I might have chosen a career in music instead of politics.” -Richard M. Nixon

I am including this quote because, well, read it! Really? What I would give to see Tricky Dick representin’! Gas face! “I am not a criminal – I am the O.G.!” His new moniker? Janky Forty Sippa. Please visit this site to put a smile on your face on the way out of the workplace!

According to that site, brip blap should be redubbed “Rotten Tree Hugga.” Good idea?

a simple way to save money on food

The following post originally appeared on I’ve Paid For That Twice Already. A member of the M-Network, she has a couple other sites worth checking out: Hug Twice and Snowflake Revolution. Recently, of course, you remember me mentioning her snowflaking concept as the basis for my wealthstreaming idea.


There may be a lot of ways to save money on food, but one of the simplest and best ways to save money is to have a good breakfast. This may sound like a simple thing, but it eludes many people, who rush off to work with a bagel and a coffee. A good breakfast accomplishes a number of important goals:

1. It gives you energy and keeps you alert. Most people realize that there’s a fine line beteen eating too much and too little. Both essentially have the same result – sluggishness. Failing to eat breakfast can cost you the energy that you need after your overnight “fast”. Even the name of the meal, “Break (Your) Fast” implies that you’re sitting down to a meal after fasting all night. You need those calories to reenergize your body and yourself.

2. Many of the tastiest breakfast choices are also healthy for you. As mentioned in #1, eating is important for energy’s sake. What types of food are best for you depend on your individual metabolism, but I think they fall into one of three basic categories:

a. The hearty breakfast: this breakfast is the most dangerous since the temptation to overload on food will be there. Bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns and other heavy foods fall in this category. My advice if you prefer this category is to stick to one type of food or the other, carbs or proteins. Carbs (toast, hash browns) will give you a quick burst of energy but may leave you hungry again later. Proteins (eggs, bacon) may not fill you up as much but will give you energy throughout the morning. Take it easy if you eat these. None of these foods are bad in moderation, but eating a rasher of bacon every day will eventually have some consequences.

b. The convenience breakfast: cereals, grits, oatmeal and other “bowl foods” are an easy way to start your day. Make sure you read serving sizes! A bowl of cereal does not mean a bowl poured up to the rim with flakes. Try measuring out a cup using a serving size measuring cup. It is not a lot of food. If you really love cereal, this breakfast is OK, but it usually won’t be enough for a full day. Try to eat a small amount of these bowl foods along with some fruit. The fruit will add some flavor, provide some vitamins and add to your sense of being full without adding massive amounts of calories.

c. A “non-standard” breakfast. A grapefruit, a bowl of rice, olives, mixed veggies and other “different” breakfasts fall in here. I remember eating cheese, butter and bread with a slice of kielbasa every morning while living in Germany. As an American I thought of it more as a sandwich, but it was a good solid breakfast. Once in a while at home I have what I jokingly refer to as my “Mediterannean Breakfast” – olives, cheese, maybe a slice of bread. There is no need to eat “breakfast food” for breakfast. Eat pasta if you like carbs! Eat some turkey and cottage cheese! Eat a salad! Try to think past eggs and toast.

3. It makes you happier. Let’s face it, if you start the day with a healthy, filling, pleasant breakfast your morning is going to seem more pleasant. I used to be a big fan of grabbing a bagel on the run so I could sleep an extra 15 minutes. Get up a little earlier and fix yourself a nice breakfast. Have it with some tea or coffee. Don’t read the morning news, but open a window or better yet sit on the porch or balcony if you have one. Make breakfast a smooth start to the day instead of a jarring mass of calories jammed down your throat. You’ll be surprised how much more relaxed you’ll feel all day.

4. It saves money. Eating breakfast is a big money-saver. Failing to eat breakfast means that you’re going to be tempted to grab a coffee and a bagel, a Pop-Tart or a power bar around 11 am. Having a filling breakfast means you’ll make it to lunch without being tempted by junk food. Plus, you’ll have more energy, get your work done quicker and leave work earlier. Right?

So think about sitting down for a slow breakfast tomorrow and starting your day off better. In the same way that compound interest just builds and builds, putting a little effort into the beginning of your day can have a big payoff for your afternoon and evening!

Creative Commons License photo credit: the trial

why you need to write your goals down

This post originally appeared at Millionaire Mommy Next Door.  If you haven’t visited her blog yet, you really should.  She’s someone who “made it” – she’s achieved financial freedom and she’s willing to share the who-what- when-where-why-how’s.   I love her blog, and you will too.

A while ago I had an epiphany.  We were visiting my brother and his family, who live in a house with a fenced-in backyard and a pleasant detached home – quite different from our townhouse. I told Bubelah that this would be a great way to live: to have a fenced-in backyard where toddlers could play without us having to worry about them dashing out in the street. I declared that this should be one of our goals: to move out of our townhouse in the next few years and find a house with a yard that we could fix up into a children’s paradise. We would live simply, quietly in the country. This seemed to me to be a fine goal, and she agreed.

Fast forward a few days. I was again talking to my wife about the times we spent on the town in Manhattan while dating years ago. I lived in the heart of Manhattan, right off Central Park near Columbus Circle. She was living in Queens. While we were dating (and then afterwards while engaged) we spent a lot of time exploring Manhattan: a different ethnic restaurant every night, zipping to a bar or a lounge on weekends, hanging out with friends, taking in the sights and so on.  I was completely comfortable with a dirty martini in hand, dressed head-to-toe in black.  We stayed out late, listened to thumpin’ club music and generally lived the lifestyle of the young and unconcerned in the Greatest City on Earth.  We really enjoyed that lifestyle, too.

I told my wife that my goal was to somehow manage to move our family (the two of us plus our son and daughter) back to Manhattan and enjoy all of the culture that living in the heart of New York could offer. We would be a new urban family, enjoying a small apartment in a high-rise centrally located in Manhattan. Central Park for picnics with our kids, Broadway plays for us while the nanny watched the tykes at night. The luxurious lifestyle of the carelessly wealthy in New York. A dream, but why not? It’s a goal, and a good one.

At this point my wife turned to me and said, “Just a few days ago you were saying your goal was to live in the country with a yard! Now you want to live in Manhattan! Which is it?” Sheepishly I had to agree that it really depended on when you spoke to me. The theme song from “Green Acres” rattled around in my head.

Because of my inconsistency, and because of reading blogs like Millionaire Mommy Next Door, I now understand that I need to write down goals. I am good at keeping a to-do list and living within my means. My wife is a stay-at-home mother, and we spend less than we earn (although I’m always trying to earn more than I spend).  At the same time we’re still putting away plenty of money towards retirement and eating a fairly expensive organic and natural diet. The problem is that often I have a feeling that while we’re comfortable where we are now, I am not moving quickly enough to being free financially. While we are saving and carefully keeping emergency funds, I am certainly not in the position to consider quitting my consulting work now, or any time in the next 20 years at this rate. So how would writing down my goals help?

Writing things down inevitably makes them more concrete in your mind. Try keeping a notebook in your pocket 24 hours a day. Any time you have a thought – a to-do item, grocery shopping items, even if you hear a song you want to look up on the internet later on – write it down. You’ll find that this makes your memory stronger, not weaker. Review your list frequently. That will reinforce your memory even more. So if this works for “remember to buy eggs” why wouldn’t it work for “make every action aim towards financial freedom, living in a beautiful home in the country where I can pursue my writing?”  Every time I flip open my Moleskine I’m confronted by my ten-year goals.  And yes, I’m confronted – that’s the right word, meaning that they get up in my face and challenge me.

As you can see from my example, I can’t even remember my goals from one day to the next. I have realized from this little mistake, and a dozen others, that my confident claim “I don’t need to write goals down” is not confident, but silly. Writing goals down is a critical first step, not a pointless exercise. I have been dismissive of it because it seemed just a little too easy to be necessary. I liken it to skipping the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. We laugh at “rinse, lather, repeat” because we’ve seen that, done that. But for someone who’s never seen shampoo before, those would be helpful instructions.  Writing things down almost always serves a purpose.

So if you haven’t clearly defined your goals, written them down and begun a habit of reviewing them daily, you won’t have the reinforcement that you need to make them a reality. Dreams are fun and enjoyable, but putting your dreams onto paper (or into a Google Doc or a treasure map or whatever method works for you) is the real first step towards creating a real, workable path to achieve your goals.

the big present I gave my first employer

Note: this post was directly inspired by some of the comments on yesterday’s post.

When I was a young fellow, fresh out of accounting MBA school, I had a prestigious job working for one of the (at the time) six biggest accounting firms in the world. It was a small office, but it was the second biggest of the six in the city I lived in at the time. It was a well-respected firm and I was lauded by my school, friends, family and peers for landing a position there.

If you aren’t familiar with the work-life structure of the big accounting firms, a little background is in order. I’ll refer to them as the Big 4 (today there are four – during my professional career one has disappeared – Andersen – and two have merged). In the Big 4, the corporate culture is up-or-out. What does that mean? Nobody remains in static positions. There are three basic levels: staff, manager and partner. Staff and managers have a number of subdivisions, but a new joiner will progress, inevitably from junior staff to senior staff to junior manager to senior manager to junior partner to senior partner. You either get promoted on schedule or you are pressured to leave… or fired.

Everyone works hard in the Big 4. I have worked until 6 am, showered and gone back to work. I have worked week after week, 12-14 hour days every day including Saturdays and Sundays. The deadlines are unmissable and the pressure is enormous. The staff and seniors are typically devoted to no more than a few clients at once, and they have very little discretion in which clients and which areas they work. Managers have more latitude, but typically take on far more responsibility. They are responsible for training, mentoring, reviewing and organizing the staff on the project, and at the same time they must manage the clients’ expectations, pursue collections and billings and meet firm expectations on landing new business. Partners’ responsibilities are intense; mistakes on their part can destroy the firm. They must be technically proficient in accounting principles, “rainmakers” and office leaders. The days of the cheerfully drunk partner who shows up for golf and cocktails are long, long gone.

Staff and managers work exceptionally hard, though. I had a decent salary compared to my peers but I also worked 100 hour work weeks. My hourly wage was approximately $9 per hour as a staff person. Babysitters in New Jersey typically demand a minimum of $10 per hour. By the time I was a manager things weren’t much better – when I jumped to private industry I received a huge pay raise for nothing other than getting out of the grind. Had I stayed until I was a partner, I would have received a partnership income in the (I guess, depending on the market and a million variables) range of a quarter million per year. Retirement at 50 would have been achievable with a partner’s pension. I always knew I didn’t want to stick around to make partner. My intention was to stay two years then bolt – but then I stayed another – and another – and the next thing you knew I realized I was facing a big choice.

So what’s the point, Steve?

The Big 4 payoff is like a lottery. You make partner, you get rewarded for those awful hours and those long busy seasons. If you leave before then, you have been suckered. You gave up a lot of hours at minimum wage to build someone else’s firm; someone else’s client relationships; someone else’s partnership share. I spent years toiling at an awful salary to strengthen my firm and enrich the partners.

Don’t work like this for an employer.

I regret those hours now. I have a good consulting gig, don’t get me wrong. Leaving at 6 pm is a late day for me. I have few responsibilities and very little pressure. But if I had taken my 20s and poured those 100 hour work weeks into my own business, or even a small firm where I could have shared in the growth, I would have benefited enormously – more than just having a six-figure salary. I do have a fearsome resume to show for it; people in my field generally know what it means to have been in the offices and firms and fields and industries I was in, and it makes a difference in landing consulting jobs now. But I built no assets for me.

So the point is this: if you are working insane hours, stop and figure out your hourly wage. Stop and ask yourself: if I quit today, or I quit 3 years from now, will my resume look much different? Am I building something for someone else or for myself? It may be that you’re happy with your position as an employee – but if you’re working past the 9 to 5, you’re donating your irreplacable time – YOUR LIFE – to your employer, free of charge. That’s an awful nice present. Think about whether you’re happy giving it. You could probably spend a lot of those spare hours – which can never be replaced – doing a lot of things for yourself.