Selling The Place?

Buyer Beware!

SellingThePlace

Recently, I was on vacation in Columbus OH. I’ve been going there every October for more than a decade and I always stop at my favorite restaurants when I’m in town. I admit, I’m a creature of habit. When I find someplace I really like, you can expect to see me there on a recurring basis. There is comfort in the familiar. I also tend to eat the same favorite menu items. Being a vegetarian, my choices are usually limited to begin with.  I was a little shocked when I made my annual stop at this great Indian restaurant AMUL INDIA, only to discovered that my favorite dish, a vegetarian thali, was no longer on the menu. I had an awesome waiter who went above and beyond and was able to finagle the meal from the chief for me anyway, even though it was NOT ON THE MENU.  Evidently, the long established business had changed hands, and the new owner felt the sampler dish was not as profitable despite being popular. Fortunately my waiter had remained during the business transition and he remembered me from prior years. It pays to know people.      

IMG_3228

Nothing lasts forever, and if you live long enough you’ll have more tales of places that used to be in business than you have hair on your head.  Every year hundreds of thousands of business come and go, or change hands. Some are new start-ups built from scratch, some are franchised businesses, and some just change hands.  Buying an existing business is not without its risks, but a savvy investor can reduce or possibly eliminate those risks entirely IF they are diligent and gather enough information about WHY the business is for sale. 

Before you do anything, sign anything, or agree to anything make certain that you have a certified public accountant and a lawyer of your own. They, along with someone from your financial institution like a loan expert, or business rep.  will be key to forming a business acquisition team. These experts will be able to prevent you from making a costly mistake by examining the books, reading the fine print etc. 

What’s in the back?

As a customer, you are limited to the places intended for customers. It is rare for non-employees to glimpse much of anything locked behind the doors marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. As an interested potential buyer, it is essential to visually inspect ALL AREAS of the business you are considering buying. It’s my dream to open a coffee shop. There are several key pieces of equipment that every successful coffee shop MUST HAVE. You can’t make espresso if you don’t have an espresso machine.  There is a very big difference between residential and commercial kitchen equipment.  A cheap home kitchen espresso machine costs $50 and will make one shot of espresso in about 3-5 minutes.  A NUOVA SIMONELLI group two commercial espresso machine can make four shots of espresso in ONE minute, and retails for $8999.99

It is imperative to have a firm knowledge of what is the proper equipment needed for the business you want. The wrong machinery will put out of business faster than you can say “double flat white, extra sweet”.

Obtain a list of all business equipment, inventory, and assets.  Be sure to note condition, age, make, model, and shelf life.  Were those coffee beans roasted last week, or last year? Is that ancient espresso machine on its last legs?  Does the ice machine make ice?

You Owe Who What?

Make sure that the business you are considering buying has all its financials fully disclosed.  You’ll need to have your CPA go over their books. If they are not turning a profit after being in business for so time, there could be a serious problem and your accountant should be able to help you pinpoint it. Make absolutely certain that all outstanding debts and liabilities that the current business owner has and been settled BEFORE you buy the shop, or you might be facing a slew of past due bills for unpaid stock or other bills that will bankrupt you. A former acquaintance of mine whom I once considered to be  a friend had this happen to him. Actually he made EVERY mistake listed above and below. He ultimately lost his Shoe Repair Shop and ended up owing tens of thousands of dollars to at least three other individuals besides myself, and it ended our friendship.

Make certain you have money, LOTS OF MONEY.

Buying a business is not cheap. You’re going to need to have several months of working capital in the bank to cover operating expenses such as employee salaries. If some of the businesses’ assets or equipment need to be repaired or replaced, you’ll need to be able to cover the cost. Merchants who supply you with stock will probably expect you to be in operation for some time before they extend credit and will expect payment at the time of delivery especially during your first year of operation. Make certain that all licenses, permits, and if (you’re dealing with food services) health code inspections, and zoning codes are up to date and paid.  Lapsed permits, operating a business in a residential zone, or having heath code violations will force you to shut down.  Plus in dealing with the public, you may have to modify the building to comply with ADA standards.

But I just moved in…

I you are leasing the property for a business,  make sure that it’s a lease you can afford and have your lawyer read it BEFORE you sign it.  Triple Net Leases are quite common and will require you among other things, to pay for building maintenance, landscaping, property taxes, parking lot maintenance, etc IN ADDITION TO your monthly rent.  Snow removal in a large parking lot after a blizzard is expensive. As a result you could find that suddenly your rent was a lot higher than your initial agreement. Also make sure to sign a decent multi-year lease. You don’t want to be making a killing in the perfect location and end up having to move or pay double because the landlord realized he can get a lot more for his property then you are paying him and decides to price you out.

 Does she come with the place?

Will the staff stay on during the transition, or will you be suddenly be all by yourself running the shop with no help, and no clue. Understand that many of the staff may not be happy being under new ownership, with new rules. They may be used to doing things ‘the old’ way and you could encounter friction. Also remember that these employees and the former owner were the face of the business, and certain customers may be upset with the change in ownership and staff. You may find that you don’t have as many customers all of a sudden.

chair-3306118_1920

Do they still sell those?    

Times change, tastes change. Remember my former friend and his shoe repair shop that I mentioned a few paragraphs back?  In addition to all the rookie new business mistakes, perhaps the most serious one that he made was buying an antiquated, niche business with a rapidly declining customer base. Shoe repair is a dying art. Scott was an employee of the first shoe repair chain at the mall. They were acquired by another chain, which franchised its stores. The guy who brought the franchise decided to cut bait and tried to recover his losses by selling it to Scott, who still worked there and enjoyed his job, so he jumped at the chance. He was very quickly in over his head, and for a while was able to use ponzi schemes to keep the wolves at bay. Ultimately he was evicted, his assets seized, and after a civil suit showed that he had nothing of value, he kept a very low profile and faded away leaving his backers with substantial loses. If you’re not a role model, you’re a cautionary tale.  

I’ll do it differently!

What has been will be again,  what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun.  – Ecclesiastes 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

No one who ever started a business did so with the intention of bankruptcy and failure. Yet not a day goes by without some business shutting its doors. The best ways to avoid mistakes are to learn from the mistakes of others and do it differently. Knowledge is power and if you do your homework, and lay down the proper foundation for your business from the beginning you’ll be off to a good start.  A great location, with fantastic customer service, superior products, and competitive  (but still low) prices, along with a friendly and knowledgeable staff should be able to provide everything else you need to succeed!    As always, I wish you success and happiness!

Opportunity only knocks once?

Unleashing  your inner potential.

skysignknock

The word genius means exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. It used to be a word that described the ability to do something remarkable, but sometime during the 1800’s the definition changed and began to refer to the person, not the potential. As a result, a line was drawn in the sand, and people were classified. You either were born a genius, or you weren’t.  This is a lie.

We are all born the same way, and we all die eventually. Aside from accidents, tragedies or illnesses which may cut our lives short, we have decades in which to learn, and potentially improve our lives. The sad reasons that the majority of the populace fails to do so is largely because they either don’t know to improve their lives, don’t believe they can improve their lives, or flat out don’t want to . There’s really nothing that can be done for that last group, you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

“If you don’t believe that you have potential, you will never try to reach it.”

­­–John C. Maxwell

There are millions of millionaires, thousands of billionaires, and countless entrepreneurs in the world today. The most envious ‘unsuccessful’ people demonize these ‘successful’ people as being greedy, arrogant, undeserving and a plethora of other negative adjectives. Despite this I have never heard of a person with zero income, zero savings, and zero resources starting a business, creating jobs, and hiring employees.  Those who consider these highly successful individuals to be role models often refer to them as being ‘financial geniuses’.  They are said to have been presented with opportunities and met with influential people who in turn, helped them reach their potential. Maybe, maybe not.

I’m not going to deny that sometimes there is an element of ‘luck’. I am going to say that those who had that ‘luck’ worked hard to make that ‘luck’. In other words, what some people would refer to as ‘luck’ is not some random chance. It is the end result of years of study, countless attempts, and lots of hard work. You may have heard that old saying ‘opportunity knocks once.’  It does. It knocks once to let you know that it exists, and that it’s just on the other side of the door waiting for you to seize it. It doesn’t go away, it’s always there waiting for you to reach out and grab it, but you have to believe you can achieve it first!       

 “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

– Jackie Robinson  

The role of a father in a family is to provide for his children, and his children’s children.  This refers to not only the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter, but also guidance, knowledge, hope, and  opportunities.  If you raise a child to believe that there is no hope, no opportunity for improvement, and that things will continue to get worse, you crush their spirit. My father died when I was a young boy, but not before instilling in me that belief that anything I wanted in life was attainable though knowledge, hard work, and persistence.   If you want your children to be successful, you must first strive to be successful.  The more resources and knowledge you have to pass on to your children, to greater the chances  they have for success.

“Deliberately seek the company of people who influence you to think and act on building the life you desire.” –Napoleon Hill   

If you really want to be successful, you need to surround yourself with people who are more successful, and cut ties with all the negative ‘sad-sacks’ who keep trying to discourage you. Many of these ’emotional vampires’ thrive on seeing you fail, because it makes them feel better about themselves because you can’t achieve your dreams either. Misery loves company and these dream-crushers will find every dark cloud they can to wrap around your silver lining.

Every choice you make in life has consequences.  Good choices usually lead to good outcomes while bad ones have negative outcomes.  A single bad choice made early in life can set you back years, if you ever recover at all. And the more poor choices you make, the more cumulative the fallout becomes. Surrounding yourself with losers who apply peer pressure to encourage you to travel their path will only end badly.   This is the real reason behind the other success cliché, “it’s lonely at the top.” Think back to your high school days. How many classmates did you have? Of those, how many went on to be successful? I mean REALLY successful, not just getting by. Odds are that one-in-a hundred became super-successful, and one other became very-well-off. Yet back in high school, you were all more-or-less on equal footing. Of all the people I went to high school with, today I speak to only two of them, and only once or twice a year.  Earlier this week, I bumped into someone from high school who remembered me, but I didn’t know their name, face, or anything about them. 

On the other hand, if you surround yourself with winners, these individuals will be there to advise and encourage you.  You’ll be able to get valuable insights which will help you avoid the mistakes of others. Some may even offer to help you in  your endeavors. Successful people love to help others became successful.  The key here is to be genuine, and not have hidden agendas.  I have had some former friends who asked for assistance and had zero intention of fulfilling their end of the agreement. They intentionally took advantage of my kindness. Thus ended our friendship.  

As you go further on in life, you will find along the way friends will come and go. Some will not be able to accompany you on your road to success, and you need to let them go. It may be hard, but it will be worse for both of you if you try to make them stay. Thrust me, I’ve cut a lot of fair-weather friends in my life, it’s never easy, but looking back it was always the right thing to do. Most people can only accommodate five close friends in their life at most. Any more than that and you will be neglecting family or your own personal time. Friends are great to have, but that the only real constant in your life will always be your family. This is because you can choose your friends, but family is forever.

“Life reflects your own thoughts back to you.”– Napoleon Hill

When people are happy inside, it often shows on the outside. Successful people tend to be happy people. And when they project this positive energy outward, it tends to attract like-minded people. No one wants to be around depressing, unhappy people. Your attitude in life will open or close doors for you more often than the situations you find yourself in. People tend to respond positively towards happy congenial people. Just as what you know, who you know, and where you are in life are all important, the final piece of the puzzle is how you behave.  Charles Swindoll once said “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” So the best way to be happy and successful is to start by being happy. Focus on all the good, healthy positive things in your life. If you start counting your blessings you will find that you have more things in your life to be happy about than you realize. And smile, it’s contagious. Before you know it, you’ll attract positive people to your life to fill the spaces left by the negative ones you cut from your social circle. And each new person will bring new knowledge, new opportunities,  and new adventures to share. As always, I wish you happiness and success!          

Very Interesting…

Earn interest while keeping your emergency fund fluid.

As you work your way towards financial freedom, it is imperative to have liquid assets. The most liquid of all assets of course is always cash. Having stocks in a brokerage account is dandy, but the turnaround time to sell them can be days until the funds are transferred into your bank account.  This is no good if you have a situation arise which requires immediate funds.

Because life happens, having an emergency cash supply is essential.  The ideal emergency fund is to have two years worth  of living expenses stashed away. It sounds like an excessive amount, but believe me it is achievable. It just takes time to reach that level.

Two years worth of living expenses for most people is measured in tens of thousands of dollars. So for argument’s sake, let’s assume the amount we are discussing is between $25,000 and $50,000. Keeping that amount of money liquid can be a tricky matter, but you should not sacrifice the chance to earn interest on as much of your emergency fund as possible. There are ways of earning varying amounts of interest while still keeping your assets accessible.    

touchme

The first and most important thing I recommend is always having $1000 physically on hand in your home. Keep it hidden of course, but have it! You’ll never earn interest on this smallest part of your emergency fund, but it is worth the small sacrifice to be able to reach out and touch your money if you need it in seconds.  It is better to have a $1000 in cash on hand you don’t need, than to need $1000 you don’t have.  Again, this is EMERGENCY MONEY, not fun money.  If it’s not a matter of life and death, DON’T TOUCH IT! DON’T EVEN LOOK AT IT!

Next, keep between $2000 and $5000 in your savings account. There are still some banks that will offer a minimal amount of interest with no fees. Often times credit unions will offer better interest than banks. Usually keeping $5000 in either a saving or money market account will earn you a higher interest rate for your cash. You can shop for the best interest rates offered at www.bankrate.com

Laddering CDs

Certificates of Deposit or CDs offer better interest rates but they tie up your funds until the maturity date. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate. Typically the terms run from as little as 3 months to as long as 5 years. To take advantage of the best interest rates while still keeping the cash fluid, I would recommend using a CD laddering strategy. Distribute your next $5000 to $10000  into a varying number of CDs each having different terms and end dates. You can create a ladder of CDs as long as you like with each CD being a rung. As each rung matures you can access it without penalty, or roll it over and wait for the next rung in the ladder to mature.

EX: Using $10,000, divvy it up into:  

  • 5 year CD $5000
  • 2 year CD $2000
  • 1 year CD $1000
  • 6 month CD $1000
  • 3 month $1000

With the CD ladder in this example, you will have a minimum of $1000 available to you every 3 months, and a minimum of $2000 every 6 months which you can cash in without penalty should you need it. Or let it roll over and continue to accrue interest.

Brokerage Account

Any part of your remaining cash assets beyond the above suggested $16,000 of allocated funds should be kept in a brokerage account such as MerrillEdge or TD Ameritrade to be used for the purchase of dividend stocks.  By investing in a diversified portfolio of various dividend paying stocks, you will be able to hedge your bets while maintaining a return on your investments. You’ll have to do your own homework on which stocks to buy, as past performance does not guarantee future earnings.

Experimental Investing

When you have two years worth of living expenses under your belt, you can afford to use any additional ‘mad money’ you may have for more risky financial ventures.  Some suggestions could include:

  • Collectibles / art
  • Real estate
  • Starting a business
  • Financing peer-to-peer loans through Prosper.com

 

Again, these are just suggestions and not recommendations. Ultimately you have to decide your financial future, but if you fail to plan for your future, you won’t have one.  As always I wish you happiness and success.  

You Can’t Time The Market!

The ‘right time’ to invest was yesterday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) often simply called ‘The Dow’ was founded on May 26, 1896. It was created by Wall Street Journal editor Charles Dow, and is named after both Dow and statistician Edward Jones.  It is one of popular financial guides used to track how well investment stock markets are doing.  Other popular indices used by business and finical watchers include:

  • The Standard & Poor’s 500 – often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P was introduced in 1923, but fully realized in its current form on March 4th 1957.   
  • Nasdaq Composite  – created on February 8, 1971 by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD)
  • CBOE Volatility Index or VIX –   a  measurement of  expected  volatility implied by S&P 500 index options, created by the Chicago Board Options Exchange on January 19, 1993. This last one is sometimes referred to as ‘the fear index’, and moves inversely to the S&P. You want this one to plunge.

I will be limiting the scope of this blog post to the American stock markets and  economy.  I have very little experience with foreign stocks and markets. One important thing to note, the stock market is driven by investment expectations and is an ’emotional’ response to the economy. It is not the same thing as the economy, but it can impact it. There are many factors that impact the market that can include everything from oil prices to politics to weather.  Ultimately, shrewd investors study multiple factors before committing their stock trades as past performance is  never an indication of future earnings. No one can know the future, but we can study the past and make an educated guess.

“The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich.” —Brian Tracy

The Time is NOW!

Quite often  a few misguided friends and co-workers tell me that they are waiting for the right time to invest in the market.  Fear of a correction or a crash keep them from potential earnings. Poor spending habits hamper their ability to invest. Ignorance and the refusal to seek wise counsel on fiscal issues keep them in poverty. You cannot spend your way into prosperity, the only sure-fire way to get rich is by making diverse, informed investments over a long period of time. You can’t achieve this if you spend every penny  you make on food, ‘toys’, and entertainment.   You need to first get your financial house in order because the money you use to invest must be disposable income not earmarked for essential monthly expenses. Refer to my many earlier blog posts on finances, planning,  and budgeting.   

upupup

“Whenever I hear people talk pessimistically about this country, I think they’re out of their mind.” — Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chairman

But a crash is coming!

Maybe. Maybe not.  And, so what? There have been 14 crashes in the history of the Dow. The market has ALWAYS rebounded usually within a matter of months. The longest recovery period was from  the Great Crash on October 24th 1929 which lasted four years and then led to the Great Depression.

Three examples of why uninformed and/or misinformed investing is dangerous:

 #1 On November 8th 2016, Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States. (Full disclosure,  I’m a Christian first, and a lifelong Republican second. I FULLY support the current President. I voted for him in both the primary and general election, and will vote for him again when he runs for his second term in 2020. I’ve lost friends because of this fact, but I stand my ground.)

When Trump won the election, there were a lot of newscasters , Democrats, and entertainers who said the country was DOOMED! I had a discussion with a very upset friend at work who thought that this was the end of the world. On Nov 07, 2016, the day before the election, the Dow closed at 17,994.64. I was hoping and praying that Trump won, because I fully believed that a Clinton win would be the death of the U.S.  and a disaster for its economy. Being precautious, I moved all of my investments out of the market, just in case the unthinkable happened and ‘That Woman’ won. (I had done the same thing in the 2008 election, more on that later.)  Fortunately the best man won.

The Dow shot up nearly a 1000 points over the next week, a gain which I missed out on because I couldn’t move my investments back fast enough.  It kept going up. About two or three weeks after the election, I told the same co-worker that I had read several financial analysts who predicted the Dow would hit 30,000 by the end of Trump’s first term, and 50,000 by the end of his second term should he win again in 2020. I EVEN showed him the articles stating this. He didn’t believe it, not a word, and dismissed it as propaganda.  As of Friday January 5th 2018 the Dow closed at 25,295.87!

#2 There’s an old Investment adage – Sell in May and go away, but remember to come back in September! It’s meant to avoid seasonal declines in the market, and I’ve used it more often than not. Sometimes I’ve benefited, other times I missed out on an unexpected spike in the markets during the Summer.  You can’t time the market, but you can attempt to lock in gains and minimize losses. You see market sell-offs all the time. These are mini corrections and just people trying to time the market because they think it may go down, then they plan to jump back in and capture the dip. In May of 2008, the Dow ran between 12,818.34 and 12,638.22, so it was pretty flat that month. I don’t remember the exact date I got out of the market that May, but It was probably near the end of the month. In either case it was a presidential election year, and I was not 100% thrilled with John McCain, but I absolutely HATED the other option and I’d sooner vote for Satan than a Democrat. (Unfortunately my guy didn’t win that year.)  The Dow closed at 9,625.28 On November 4th 2008. It plunged 500 points two days later and kept dropping. Fortunately as I knew that presidential election years are very unpredictable, I chose to stay out in May and remained out as I kept watching the market drop, and drop, and drop! It hit a low on Mar 05, 2009 of 6,544.10 before it started its long climb back. During this time I was still buying new shares of stock in my 401k, and even increased my paycheck deductions to 20% to capture these incredible bargains, all the while, my original balance total from May 2008 was locked away safely earning interest in a no-risk bond fund. When it got to May 2009, I uncharacteristically moved my nest egg back into the market and rode that elevator to the top! A co-worker wasn’t so lucky. He stayed in during the plunge, got out at the bottom and stayed out missing the rebound because of fear.

 #3 I was speaking about the market with a friend on December 16, 2017. He had his investments in a no risk fund, because he was fearing a crash, and was waiting for the ‘right time’ to re-enter the market. My investments were all in the high risk C Fund, or Stock fund. They still are, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Anyhow, I told him there wasn’t anything to worry about and that the market would keep going up. December 15th 2017, the Dow closed at 24,651.74. Three weeks later on Jan 5th 2018 it closed at 25,295.87, up over 600 points.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  Matthew 6:27 NIV

Let me tell you, I’ve been broke and deep and debt, and I’ve been debt-free and financially sound. Rich is better than broke. I’ve been investing for my retirement since I started working. If you keeping putting off investing in your 401k and building your savings because you’re afraid, you’ll always be broke. The USA has endured many disasters and tragedies which have impacted the stock market since its inception, yet it always rebounds and yields an average return on investments of above 10.5% over the long term. The fact is, if you let your life be ruled by fear and doubt, you will second guess everything, become skeptical with anything and succeed at nothing except making yourself miserable and poor. The decision is up to you, choose well. As always I wish you happiness and success!

A new year, a new you!

Make the most of the coming year.

IMG_9931

As we count down the final hours of 2017 on this last day and final blog post of the year, let’s pause a moment and take stock of the past twelve months.  It may not have been a perfect year  for most of us, but when we reflect back, in most cases we’d have to agree that there were far more good times than bad.  There will always be a small percentage of people we know who had a rough year. These people constantly exclaim ‘I can’t wait for this year to be over’.   For me, the only real part that I dislike and am ready for to end is always winter. I’m not a fan of the snow  and ice. I dislike the short days of early darkness and sub-freezing temperatures.  In North America, winter spans the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new.  Seasons change, and winter exists in part to make us appreciate spring, summer and autumn all the more.   

Raindrops keep falling on my head!

We have no control over the weather, just how we prepare for it. We carry an umbrella in case it rains. We have a coat or jacket in case it gets cold. Only a foolish person curses the weather because they chose not to plan accordingly. We don’t always have to like circumstances beyond our control, but realistically we know that the situation will change in time, and with proper planning and precautions, we can weather the storm. Make it your goal to accept the things you have no control over, and make positive changes over the things that you can control.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!  My, oh my, what a wonderful day!

Every day each and every one of us gets 86,400 seconds to spend however we choose, with just two exceptions. The day we’re born and the day we die. Excluding those, our days are all the same length, yet some people never seem to get anything done, while others accomplish an incredible amount.  The difference was the result of the choices made, and the attitude behind them.  Planning your day out ‘saves time’.  Procrastinating wastes it. Being miserable makes the day drag, but time flies when you’re having fun.  Did you dwell on the past instead of planning for the future? Keep a positive attitude and try to find one good thing to be thankful for each day. Then focus on that. A positive attitude will attract like-minded people and soon you’ll be surrounded by a positive support group to help keep you encouraged. Remember, no one likes a sad sack.

Time is on my side, yes it is.  

Plan ahead, and plan early. Don’t put off for tomorrow what can be done today! Prior proper planning prevents poor performance .  Manage your time, manage your expenses. Make positive changes in every aspect of your life, and multi-task when you have complimentary goals.     

The great thing about New Year’s is that it’s a reminder that we can start over. If you didn’t like the way this past year went, you can look back on what went wrong, and make changes to fix the problems. You can make New Year’s Resolutions for every item under the sun. The key though, is that you must complete the goal to achieve the result. If you change nothing, nothing will change. You can do it if you stay motivated. One key way to achieve this is by seeing positive change over a period of time.  If you have a fitness goal, such as losing weight, break it down into smaller, easily achievable goals.  Instead of focusing on the sixty pounds you want to lose this year, focus on the five pounds you need to lose in each of the twelve months and be consistent. Track your progress so that you can see how far you’ve come. And if you reach the goal early, go the extra mile and get ahead of the game. This way if you hit a plateau, or a stumbling block, you’ve got breathing room to regroup and recover from the setback. The same thing applies to financial goals. Slow and steady wins the race.  Baby steps forward are still progress.

I faced it all and I stood tall And did it my way!

The Man in the Mirror is a book written by Patrick Morley in 1989. I recommend reading it, as well as exploring any self-help books pertaining to the area of your life that you wish to change.  In  The Man in the Mirror , the author attempts to  teach us to solve 24 problems every man faces in life. Although geared for men, this book applies to everyone. The title is the clue to the cause of the problems, and the solution is to live our lives in a more godly manner.  How many of the problems we face in our lives are a direct result of our stubbornness to do  it ‘our way’ instead of the right way? How many times do we repeat the same mistakes and expect different results? An honest person is forced to admit that the larger portion of our misfortunes are self-made.   Blaming the year and wishing it were over is a very childish way to deal with one’s problems. After all, if you don’t effect positive changes in your life, most likely next year will be a repeat of this year,  or maybe be even worse.  The choice is up to you!  Are you ready for more of the same, or a fantastic new beginning?  You decide.  As always I wish you happiness and success!

Secret Santa

A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. –– Proverbs 18:16 KJV

IMG_9868

As I’m sitting here in the wee small hours of the morning of Christmas Eve 2017 working on my last Christmas-themed financial blog post of 2017, the main thought that is going through my mind is, ” I LOVE CHRISTMAS!”  It is impossible ignore the fact that whatever your personal religious beliefs are, Christmas begins with CHRIST, Jesus is the reason for the season, and Christians like myself become ‘a little more vocal’ about what we believe. Christmas is a very good thing for both the believer and the non-believer alike.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! So if you don’t believe in Christ, please don’t take offense at a person extending you a heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas’ at this time of year. It’s not a religious threat or insult, it’s a olive branch or a bridge to show that we are all connected. Take it in the spirit of goodwill in which it’s meant.

Talking about ‘spirits’ and giving brings to mind two secular and fictional aspects of Christmas: Ebeneezer Scrooge and Santa Claus.  

I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ — Acts 20:35 The Holy Bible, New King James Version

There are people in this world today who claim that being wealthy is a sign of greed, and that somehow the rich people of the world are responsible for causing the poverty in it. This is far from the truth. Wealthy people pay the majority of all taxes collected, and donate the largest sums to charities. They build the factories, fund the businesses, and create the jobs.   

The protagonist of A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens is a miser named Ebeneezer Scrooge. Some people get the idea that he’s the villain of the tale because all he cares about is money. Scrooge isn’t the bad guy because he has money, but because he lives a joyless existence, he mistreats his employees,  and he’s horded his wealth instead of using it to bless the needy and do acts of great good. After he’s visited by the Christmas spirits, he sees the error of his ways, and is transformed by the renewing of his heart and mind. He then does great acts of charity that would not have been possible had he been poor. There are some acts of generosity that only  a wealthy person has the ability to do. Anyone can smile, say a kind word, do good deeds, or pray for other people. These things are good, and we should always do them. Most people can even afford to donate money to the less fortunate, even if it’s only coins in the Salvation Army Kettle at Christmastime.

Only the rich can give charities million-dollar endowments or build factories to create jobs.

 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’— Matthew 25:23, New English Translation

 Santa Claus is a bit more tricky. His origins have been mixed with fable thanks to L. Frank Baum and Clement C. Moore. Elves and reindeer aside, ‘Father Christmas’ is based on a real person, Saint Nicolas of Myra was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. He was born circa 280 AD and died December 6th 345 AD. In the twentieth century, Santa Claus stated to supplant Christ as the focus of Christmas, basically because he was a fun way to make the season more ‘inclusive’. Some people who were not religious felt left out. So advertising departments of companies like Coca-cola and Macy’s ran with Santa as a jolly alternative, and a new representative of Christmas goodwill.  This is both good and bad. Bad because Santa distracts us from ‘the real reason for the season’ and can be confusing for young children. Good because Santa is FUN, and inspires giving.      

As a Christian, I KNOW that ALL things come from God, and everything I have ultimately came from The Lord of All Creation. Christians especially have a duty to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and Christmas gives us many great opportunities to help the less fortunate. I find myself a little merrier wearing a red Santa hat, it inspires me!

I’m going to wrap this up with the inspiring true story of Larry Stewart, the Secret Santa.  

 Kind words and kind actions can change lives!

Larry Stewart (April 1, 1948 – January 12, 2007) was an American philanthropist from Kansas City better known as “Kansas City’s Secret Santa.” After poor beginnings, Stewart — from 1979 through 2006 — made a practice of anonymously handing out small amounts of cash, typically in the form of hundred-dollar bills, to needy people.

Larry was a traveling salesman in 1970, and he wasn’t very good because by 1971 he was broke and sleeping in his car. After a few days of not eating, in desperation he decided to ‘rob’ a diner by ordering a big breakfast he couldn’t pay for, and then claiming he accidentally lost his wallet somehow.  Ted Horn owner of the Dixie Diner realized the true nature of the situation, and instead of getting mad, or calling the cops, decided to give Larry a $20 bill he ‘found’ on the floor, which ‘might’ have fallen out of Larry’s ‘lost’ wallet. This lesson of kindness and generosity stayed with Larry Stewart. Ashamed of his initial act of deception, and humbled by the kindness of the diner owner, he vowed to himself that he would  ‘pay it forward’ as soon as he was able.

Around Christmas of 1979 on a very cold day, he stopped at a drive-in restaurant. A carhop waitress was outside wearing a small, thin coat, and freezing as she served the diners at their cars in the hope of maybe nickel or dime tips. When she brought Larry his lunch, he handed her a $20 bill, and told her to keep the change. Her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks as she said, ‘Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.’

Stewart went on to become a multimillionaire, earning his fortune from cable television and long distance calling. Each Christmas from 1979 until his death in 2007 he continued giving cash away to the needy as Secret Santa.  He quickly progressed from giving out $20s to handing out $100s, not just in Kansas City but traveling to other areas in times of tragedy, like NYC after 9/11/01 and Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.  Sadly, he developed cancer, but because he was concerned about the poor and needy, he trained an army of Secret Santas and assistant ‘elves’ who would pass out $100s to the needy after he was gone. By the time he passed away on January 12th 2007, Larry Stewart had given away over a million dollars, all inspired by the kindness of ONE man who gave him a $20 bill decades earlier. Today, the army of Secret Santas continue to hand $100 bills to poor, their efforts supported by other wealthy philanthropists, and inspiring others to do likewise.

So as we open our gifts on Christmas morning, and give presents to our friends and family, let us all be inspired by all the beauty and wonder of all the aspects and icons of the season. Let us not focus on ourselves, but think of our fellow man, and be grateful for all that we have. May we all find the courage to better ourselves, so that we can extend a hand-up to the fallen, and together we can with a smile, encouragement, charity and kindness, make this a better world. As always I wish you happiness and success!  Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.