Wealth and Work: Rather be doing something Else?

Rather be doing something else?

Let’s face it – we all encounter this at some point in our work, no matter how fulfilling we may find it at times.  When our minds wander to other things we’d rather be doing, it may be due to burnout as I talked about in this previous post.

But other times it may be due to unresolved desire to pursue something else.

I struggled with this for years, working a day job in government finance and accounting, while my creative juices were getting little attention.  I would find ways to accommodate my creativity in designing reports, but that wasn’t enough.

I have always been fascinated by music, and played piano since 4th grade and french horn since 5th grade, adding guitar in my teens and buying my first of several electronic keyboards.  As new technology emerged around digital recording, I resolved to teach myself how to record, mix and master music on my PC (not a cheap hobby through the 90’s and into the new millenium!).

Later on, I also started a small record label and have released a total 7 records, the most recent one on vinyl – who knew we’d come full circle back to vinyl?

But, I digress – we are talking about wealth and work and the occasional pull we feel to do something else.

This is where hobbies, or avocations, come in (from the Latin avocare – “call away”).  When we get the feeling we’d rather be doing something else, we are being “called away” from our vocation or work to think about something else.  When this happens it is may be due to some aspect of ourselves that is not receiving the attention it deserves.

Instead of fighting this urge to do something else, it is important to pause for a moment and observe what it is we would rather be doing.  What is the call or pull that you are sensing?  This is a critical step – it may identify a new and distinct calling on your life, or it might identify a part of you that you have been neglecting.

Once we identify what is pulling at or calling us, it is important to schedule time to give it our full attention, even if it is only for half an hour.  It is important to actually schedule it, block out the time for it, and commit to doing it as scheduled.

The importance of scheduling is, once scheduled, the distraction of rather doing something else is diminished or even disappears.  This won’t work long term if you neglect to address it as scheduled.

The worst thing you can do is attempt to ignore and push through.  You only end up wasting energy fighting yourself, and both you and your work suffer.

Wealth and Work

Wealth and Work

Vocation: A Calling

Our work, our vocation (from the Latin vocare – “to call”), is meant to be a source of wealth for us.  While financial compensation is one way for our vocation to be a source of wealth, it is not the sole source, and our pursuit of financial gain over and above every other aspect of our work may make us rich, but seldom wealthy.

The pursuit of financial gain at the expense of one’s calling may make one rich, but never wealthy.  [Tweet]

 

Finding meaning in our work and ways to positively impact the lives of others through our work is the true measure of wealth in our work.

When we continue in a job we hate, regardless of the money it pays, there is little wealth in or produced by that job or ourselves. We go through the motions, miserable and creating misery in everyone around us. This is the opposite of wealth – it is poverty.

When we do not give our all to the work set before us we are stealing from those we are meant to be helping, and robbing ourselves of the wealth gained by a job well done.

There are several reasons why we might find ourselves in such a state of vocational poverty:

The good news is we can counteract each of these with discipline and some help from friends, counselors, or coaches.

We’ll examine each of these in greater detail in upcoming posts, exposing the poverty in each, and in doing so discover the way to wealth.

 

 

 

 

 

Wealth. It’s more about gratitude than greed.

Wealth. It's more about gratitude than greed

Wealth isn’t so much what we have or how much, but about our acceptance of what we have, how we use it, whether we give it freely or hoard it, and whether we are a like a stagnant pond or a flowing river, where wealth flows in, through and out again.

Wealth is what we leave behind, not what we take with us, although realizing true wealth in this life assures us of wealth to come in the next, whatever you might believe comes next.

My word for 2016 was wealth.  I bought Benjamin Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, planning to learn about building financial wealth.  I still haven’t read it.  My experience with understanding wealth during 2016 turned out to be less about money (and the greed often associated with it) and more about relationships and accepting the generosity of others.

Relationship

I started spending every Sunday with my godson’s family, sharing meals, spending time in conversations, helping out with projects in the yard, sharing the couch with one of two full sized german shepherds,  basically becoming part of the family.  This made me more wealthy than any amount of money I could have made.  It’s also cool to pull up outside the house and hear two little rascals shouting, “Dave Tornstrom’s here!  Dave Tornstrom’s here!” (Yes they use my full name.  Every time.  I think it’s hysterical since most of my friends from college on only knew me by my nickname, Klondike.)

I also reconnected with old friends when they invited me to their son’s 1st birthday party.  I have been back many weekends for dinner, campfires, and helping out with the odd errand or two.  If I had not accepted the generosity of their hospitality I would never have experienced the joy of hearing a now two year old yell, “Klondike!,” whenever I show up.

A good deal of time last summer was spent outside with friends mountain biking, boating, and camping, reconnecting with my love of the outdoors.  This was magnified in my mind later in the fall, when I was feeling somewhat more melancholy than usual, and I realized this was the first summer in about 4-5 years that my parents and I had not spent a week in the Berkshires hiking and soaking in the quiet of a remote cottage.

The Generosity of Others

It may seem strange, but I was also learning to accept the generosity of others and just enjoy it.  I am one of those types who, when given something, feels compelled to pay it back, or return the favor.  Thus whenever someone was generous with me I felt indebted to them.  I can’t stand being indebted to anyone or anything. So most of the time I learned to simply refuse what was offered, or awkwardly attempt to return the favor immediately.  This is not wealth.

Part of being truly wealthy is understanding how to accept the generosity of others well.  Generosity well received is a generous response to the giver.  In this way we learn the value of being generous to others.  True generosity is giving with no expectation of anything in return, except perhaps gratitude. Gratitude like love, does no harm. But even when gratitude is withheld, generosity is not nullified. In fact generosity in the face of ingratitude is the most generous, as it is easy to give when a thank-you is expected, but much harder when it is not.

I guess you could say by learning to accept generosity, what I was really learning was the practice of gratitude.  I have adopted the practice used by many of listing at least 3 things I am grateful for everyday as part of my morning journal.  It is a simple but profound exercise.

Conclusion

What I discovered is true wealth is much more about fostering healthy relationships, engaging in community with neighbors, being generous, and expressing gratitude with every breath we breathe, than it is about money or possessions.

Wealth is yours to decide and yours to define, but yours only for this lifetime.

Money Time and Energy

Money. Time. Energy.

Most of us have ideas about all the things we would like to accomplish in our lifetime, but seem to protest too much about not having enough money, time or energy to do them.

The solution is simple but hard. We have to plan.

Money

  • We have to create a budget to make sure we are setting money aside and not spending more than we make. Then we have to follow it, changing it as necessary.
  • Bust a Myth: Budgets are not set in stone, they can be changed as often or as little as you want. The only unchanging principle is you can’t spend more than you earn.

Time

  • We have to plan ahead and schedule in the important things. If you want to read more, schedule time each day to read. If you want to meditate more, schedule the time each day and meditate. Whatever it is that you never seem to have time for, schedule the time and then do it.
  • Bust a Myth: Schedules lock us in, they restrict our freedom, man. Actually, done right, scheduling in the important stuff and doing it actually frees us up to enjoy the remaining free time more fully, because we aren’t being nagged by our subconscious about all the things we aren’t getting done

Energy

  • In order to have energy we need to plan time to take care of our bodies. We need about 7-8 hours of sleep consistently. We need exercise or activity of some kind daily. And we need time for stillness, to clear our minds and just be still.
  • Bust a Myth: I have too many things to get done.  Sleep can wait.  I’ll hit the gym tomorrow.  Sitting still doing nothing is a waste of time. Time is money.  And so we burn out.  Our ability to accomplish tasks efficiently and precisely is greatly increased with healthy sleep patterns (when our brain kind of “reboots”), regular exercise (which increases the efficiency of oxygen flow to the brain), and periodic times of stillness (which gives us time to make sure we are on the right track or off down a rabbit trail).

Planning takes effort. It’s sometimes a painful process (at least at first). But the weird truth is the more you plan, the more money, time and energy you will seem to have.

3 Simple Principles for Wealth and Happiness

I know, this is a pretty big claim, but yep, I’m saying it’s pretty much this easy.

It’s also this hard.

 

1. Spend less than you earn.

If you are spending more than you earn you have only three options to correct this: spend less, earn more, or do both.

Our in-come must be greater than our out-go.
– Pretty much every treasurer in history

2. Set some aside.

Take a small percentage off the top of every paycheck and use it for savings:  emergency funds, sinking funds, vacation, retirement, etc.

“A part of everything you earn is yours to keep.”
– George Clason, The Richest Man in Babylon

3. Give generously from what you have.

Giving doesn’t always have to be financial, but giving financially helps us maintain a proper and healthy attitude toward money.

Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth… Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.
– Sir John Templeton

 

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of More

We can’t be content with more if we have not yet learned to be content with less.

Interestingly, once we become content with less we seldom want more, but are better equipped to manage it when it inevitably comes our way.

When we are content with less, more seems to come our way, and we are more likely to give it away or share it with others. Our generosity increases as our contentment grows. When we no longer find ourselves in the pursuit of more, and begin to pursue less, our focus inevitable shifts away from ourselves and towards others.

No one can be generous while they are selfish. We can appear generous to others, but if we have ulterior motives – like having others think we are generous – this is selfish. When we do something for our own benefit it is by nature a selfish act.

Beware Tempting Mortgage Refinance Offers

Earlier this year I received a nice letter from QuickenLoans that said:

“You may be eligible to refinance your home loan at a low, 30-year fixed interest rate of 3.75% (4.609% APR). This lower rate could reduce your monthly mortage payment to $467.02!”  (Bold print theirs)

They repeat this message two additional times on the same page, once in regular type and immediately below in bold in a call out box

Sound good?  Not so fast.

I refinanced about 5 years ago to a 15 year fixed conventional loan at 3.375% with a monthly payment of approximately $916.  This new loan would basically cut my monthly payment in half!  But…

When I received this offer I had a little less than 11 years left on my current loan.   This new loan would add 20 years to the length of my loan.  It would also increase my interest rate by 0.375%.  Let’s just do some quick uncomplicated math here:

12 months x 30 years x $467 = 168,120 (remember I would be refinancing only $100,842)

12 months x 11 years x $916 = 120,912

That’s a $47,000 difference!  For the privilege of cutting my monthly payment in half, I get to increase my interest rate, add 20 years to my payment term, and shell out an additional $47,000 in interest.

Don’t forget that I am in the 5th year of my current 15-year loan, so by now, the way amortization schedules work, I am paying considerably more in principal than I am in interest (out of my $916/month payment less than $300 is interest and over $600 is paying down principal).  This is good.

If I refinance now at the offer QuickenLoans presented to me I would be paying considerably more in interest than I would against principal (out of the $467/month payment over $300 is interest at the start and only about $150 is paying down principal).  This is bad.

Anyone still think this offer is a good deal for me?  Or that this lender is really looking out for my best interest?

Remember this simple concept:  When the interest portion of your payment is higher than the principal portion, your loan is in the lender’s favor, not yours.  (Tweet)

The best part of this?  They are offering an FHA loan for which my condo unit doesn’t even qualify.  So they would likely try to sell me an even higher interest rate after going through the whole process, and I would end up with an even worse deal.

Beware the tempting offer.  Do the math.  Talk it over with someone you trust will give you the straight figures.

Who wants more stuff? Not me.

blog-image-2016-02-05

Cheech and Chong had something right in their classic comedy routine.

[Knock, knock]  “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Dave, let me in, I got the stuff.”

[pause]

“Dave’s not here.”

(very loosely paraphrased from memory)

 

I was always particularly fond of this routine because they use my name, Dave.  But when it comes to someone bringing stuff into my life (including me) I now often respond in similar fashion, “Dave’s not here.”

The reality is none of us own anything.

We buy, borrow, sometimes steal (shame on us), stuff that we may or may not use for a time, but in reality we never own it.

If you were to die today, what would you take with you?

Nothing.

Because it was never yours to take.  It was only yours to use for a time.

So if I don’t own anything, who does own it?  The person or being that created it.  For me that person and being is God.  He owns it all.

What a relief it was to finally understand that.  It’s not mine, so I am just taking care of it for someone else.

Suddenly, my eyes were opened, and I looked around “my” condo space and asked, “Who brought all this stuff in here?”

It was me.  My floor plan had evolved to provide a pathway from the entrance to the stairs to the loft, a diagonal line from one corner to its opposite.  The rest of the place is full of stuff.  Stuff I hardly ever use (read “never”).  Stuff I thought had some value until I tried to sell it, and then could not find anyone to take for free.

I’m still buried under piles of CDs and books and furniture and some items dating back to childhood.   My goal is to do some serious Winter/Spring cleaning, by either selling, donating or throwing away the things I don’t need, to free up space for me to simply live and breathe.

I might even blog more often.

What would you do with with the space created by getting rid of your “stuff?”

 

 

 

Finding 50 – Play the Savings Game

blog-image-2016-01-19In my last blog post I mentioned my belief that most of us can find $50 a month for saving, paying off debt or investing depending on what your current goals are.

But how do I save fifty dollars when I can’t even pay my electric bill?  Or my car insurance?  Or rent?

The problem is that most of us never even try.   Better yet, try is all we ever do.  Trying tends to let us agree without any sort of commitment.  Taking action gets us to the finish line.

It might help to think of Finding $50 as a game.  (Tweet this)

Since we are thinking in terms of a game, it is helpful to think in terms of levels to beat.  For our purposes, I think the 7 Baby Steps used in Ramsey Solutions’s Financial Peace University will do the trick.

The 7 Baby Steps of Financial Peace University

  1. Save $1,000 as a starter Emergency Fund
  2. Pay off all non-mortgage debt using the Debt Snowball
  3. Build up you Emergency Fund to cover 3-6 months expenses
  4. Start investing 15% of your income for retirement using tax deferred programs
  5. Save for college
  6. Pay of your mortgage
  7. Build wealth and have fun giving some away

 

The following are areas you might be able to find savings, and if you end up finding $50 in one of these categories alone, keep going!  You’re on your way to winning the game!

Housing

If your rent is more than 1/4 of your monthly income, and your income is not likely to increase much in the next year or so, you might consider moving to a smaller or less desirable place for a time.  Or find a responsible roommate who can share the costs.

This can be the best way to find $50 or more, but it usually takes time to accomplish as housing either has a lease that needs to be ended, or if you own a place you have to deal with the time and effort of selling.

If you own your home but can’t make your mortgage payment each month, you may want to look seriously at selling your property sooner than later.  Falling behind on your mortgage can lead to foreclosure and losing everything you put into it.

Cable/entertainment

Almost anyone who currently has cable can find $50 a month or more just cancelling their cable.  You can stream Netflix for $12 a month and hit your local library for books and DVDs that won’t cost you anything.

Side benefit:  No cable means no commercials telling you to buy unnecessary things every 10-15 minutes.  Believe me, get rid of cable for a year and see how much the urge to buy stuff subsides.

Phones

If you have a smartphone consider switching to a prepaid tracphone to control your phone expenses.  If you have a mobile phone and a home phone, consider getting rid of your home phone.  This is usually a $40 a month bill just to have it turned on with no long distance or caller ID.

Many times you can save simply by shopping for a new service provider or reevaluating your plan needs – some of you may be paying for way more than you ever use.

Internet

If you can’t pay electric, your internet is going to be useless when your electric is shut off, so lose the Internet for a while and pay the electric and use the wifi available at your library, local coffee shop, or other location.  Obviously no internet will mean Netflix won’t work at home, but reading more might actually improve your ability to earn more, as long as you read a few non fiction books.

Given that the internet is relatively inexpensive and is used for education, blogging, online businesses, and on and on, I understand that this may be the item of last resort to cut.  It would be very challenging for me to do everything I do without it.

 

Remember:  None of these things are bad things or wrong things, just areas where we might be able to save a bit extra just by paying attention.

 

Sell some stuff

Even the poorest of us probably have more stuff than we need or use regularly.  Stuff that has been handed down or that we picked up somewhere because we thought we might use it someday.

Getting rid of stuff is also cathartic in the sense that it lifts off all the weight of responsibility for taking care of these things or the guilt for never having used them as you intended.

When you are out of debt and making more money, you can always go and buy more stuff, although you may not want to at that point.  You might find you enjoy having free space and less clutter.

This one is gonna ruffle some feathers.  SELL THE CAR.

Car payments are one of the biggest offenders in the battle over our finances.  Leasing a car is even worse.   The average car payment is somewhere in the $350-450 a month range.  That’s ridiculous!  What if you didn’t have that car payment every month?  That’s a lot more than $50 right there.

Some of you are already driving an old beater car with no car payment and so this option doesn’t help you.  However, I would like to congratulate you on resisting the urge to get into a car that is more than you can afford.

Just to be clear, if you have to finance your car, you can’t afford the car.  You can afford the monthly payment, but not the car.  Sell the car, buy a good used car for a few thousand that will get you through the next year and pay yourself the car payment you were making to the bank for the next 12 months.  If your car payment was $350 per month, you would have $4200 after 12 months that you could use to fix the car, buy a slightly nicer car or pay off some other debt.

 Check out this great video on a better plan to pay for you car.

 

If you have a car payment you will never convince me that you can’t find $50 a month.  You’re driving it and throwing and extra $50 out the window at the same time (cars depreciate in value rapidly after the first year, so it’s almost like throwing the cash out the window as you drive).

Groceries and eating out

Again this is an area where people spend way more than they realize, and often pay more than they should for many items.  Track all your food and grocery related spending for the next month and total it up.  Take that amount, subtract $50 and put the rest into a cash envelope for food and groceries.  Then  use that envelope for any food or grocery purchases.  Once it is gone it’s gone, so spend wisely.

Bulk shopping is also an area to save, but not in the way you might think.  Bulk shopping is unnecessary for most of us for most things and ends up with us wasting a lot, especially with food.  Buy what you need for the week and plan your meals ahead.  At most take advantage of two for one specials for the items you use or consume the most.

Avoid the temptation to hit the drive through; 5 trips to McDonalds or Burger King for one person can easily approach $50.  If you are a coffee drinker, and you tend to get your fix from Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks a couple times per week, start bringing your coffee from home and save around $25-30 per month.

 Vacation and Travel

This is a tough one, but if you can’t pay your bills, you probably can’t afford to go on vacation.  I’m not suggesting you don’t deserve a few days off, but try staying home and taking some day trips to local parks or museums instead of flying 6 hours away to some resort.  You can always do that later when you have saved up and can pay for it in cash.  Otherwise your vacation will follow you home and haunt you in your credit card statements for years.

 Get a Second (or Third) Part-time Job

First, this is not suggested as a permanent fix, but a temporary solution to help you get to the next level.  Part-time jobs offer more flexibility than full-time jobs, and if you work hard and are dependable to show up when scheduled, you will find many employers willing to work with you on this.

While this might be really exhausting for a time, the side benefit is that you are not only earning extra money, you are gaining new experiences and making new connections that will help you advance in your job searches in the future.  The idea here is to eventually find a single job that pays close to what your 2-3 jobs are paying now.

Conclusion

I hope this has been a helpful approach.  The main thing is to try.  If you don’t find $50 this month, don’t quit.  Do it again next month.  Just keep doing it.  And if you have suggestions or comments on any of this, I would love to see your comments below.