Five Uses of Money

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that US household indebtedness has reached a new high.  After years of retrenchment following the 2008 housing collapse it appears that Americans have resumed their love affair with debt.  This new peak in indebtedness is being driven by student loans, car loans, and even the evil credit card.  Credit card debt topped $1 Trillion for the first time since 2008 and will likely reach a new all-time high this year.

What is so bad about debt, you might ask?

The reality is there are only five uses of money, and what you use in one area, cannot be used for other areas that should be a higher priority.  In this way, debt steals people’s financial future.

LIVE:  This is the money you spend on lifestyle

What house will you live in, what car will you drive, where will you live, what will you wear, what will you eat, what will you do for entertainment, where will you go on vacations?  These are some of the things that fall in this category.  For most of us, this is where we would like to see a large portion of our money go so we can have “a good life.”  What credit enables us to do is to get these things on other people’s money, but it comes at a price.

GIVE:  Charities, family, friends often need our help

Can you provide for your children’s college.  Would you like to support kids overseas, or your church?  Do your parents need help from a private duty nurse or paying for assisted living?  These are just some of the areas we might like to help with, but sadly we often cannot find the means to do so.

GUARD:  Health, Life, Auto Insurance, Emergency Fund

Most people who understand financial risk have a large portion of their income going to this area.  The cost of a major health issue or a major car wreck, especially involving others, can bankrupt a middle class household.  Many who do not allocate funds to this area have experienced financial ruin.

GROW:  Investments in self development, entrepreneurial and/or career endeavors and retirement.

This is the area where we expect money to produce a return in the future.  Investing in a college education, trade school, or certifications should produce higher levels of income.  Money spent to get your own business off the ground should help you attain financial independence.  Allocating a percentage of your income to retirement funds can provide for your future in your golden years.  Unfortunately, most Americans do very little for retirement and use debt to fund their educations and business start-ups which result in the anchor of indebtedness weighing down their progress.

OWE: Taxes, Debt Service

There is little we can do about taxes unless you do not produce an average income or better.  Even then you will have gas taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes eating away at your cash flow.  Indebtedness, however is within our control.  we make the choice on whether or not to go into debt.

BALANCE IS THE KEY

I have found it useful to take a look at your monthly spend and see how much of your hard earned money is going to each of these areas.  No one can tell you what percentages should go where, that is totally up to you.  Just remember, what you spend in one, you could spend on another.  Are you happy with what the balance looks like in your uses of money?  If not, you CAN change the equation.

TAKE THE WHEEL

You can eliminate debt to provide more cash flow to retirement funds.  You can buy used cars for cash instead of new cars on leases and free up hundreds of dollars a month to go in your child’s education fund.  You can choose to live in a smaller house to be able to travel more.  You are in control.  Be intentional about the life and future you want to create and start making moves to live your dream.

 

Grandma’s Advice for All of Us- Mothers Day 2017

I once listened to an EntreLeadership podcast  interview with Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, and about 50 other books.  I have always admired Ken’s ability to offer wisdom in a simple, succinct manner.  He told a story that I would like to retell for you (with some embellishment).

There once was a boy who loved his grandmother, but lived far away from her.  They had a very special relationship.  When he would visit, they spent most of their time making and eating home-made cookies, doing crossword puzzles together, watching game shows on the TV, and playing board games.

Grandma’s favorite board game was monopoly.  She taught the boy how to play when he was about seven.  The grandmother was a very sweet and loving woman, but when she played monopoly she turned into Donald Trump!  She was ruthless and she never lost!   One summer, when the boy was 10, Grandma told him if he ever beat her at a game of monopoly, she would give him a great treasure she had acquired from her father.  The boy asked what it was, but she would not tell him.

So he went home with his imagination running wild.  He asked his dad about it.  After all, Grandma was his mom.  His father said he remembered getting the same offer, but he never beat her, so he never got the treasure.  What secret treasure could Grandma be holding on to for generations?  There was only one way to find out!

The boy started playing monopoly at every opportunity.  He played with his parents, friends, and classmates after school.  He downloaded the monopoly app on his phone.  He was so obsessed his parents had to threaten to take away his phone if he did not do his homework and chores first.  Over the next few months he played hundreds of monopoly games, exploring new strategies, reading blogs on the game, and he started winning.  In fact, by Halloween, he rarely lost!

That year Thanksgiving was held at the boy’s house, and Grandma came.  She arrived Wednesday evening and had barely got settled into her room when the boy, monopoly game in hand, appeared and asked her to play.  With a wry smile the Grandma asked, “Are you sure?  I would not want to ruin your Thanksgiving!”  “I’m sure,” the boy answered with a quiet confidence that impressed the grandmother.  “O.K. then.  Let’s get started!” Grandma’s answered.

They set up the game in the dining room.  It was about 7:00.  As the game went on, family members started stopping by the game to watch, and none of them left.  By 10:00, the room held 12 spectators.  Team Grandma, and Team Grandson cheered and jeered as their player went to jail, landed on free parking, acquired a monopoly, mortgaged properties on the brink of ruin, then bounced back!  By midnight, the whole household was spent, and so was Grandma.  All her properties were mortgaged, and as she rolled the dice she saw her next stop was Boardwalk; owned by her grandson, and on it, a bright red hotel!

She conceded the game and congratulated the boy!  She told him it was the first time she had lost a monopoly game since she was ten years old, when she beat her father for the first time.  All the spectators offered their congratulations and condolences and headed for their beds, leaving the two players alone with the game.

The boy perused the board, surveying all his property and his enormous pile of cash.  He could not stop smiling.  The Grandma smiled herself.  She took his hands in hers, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, “Are you ready for the treasure I promised you?”  “You mean you are going to give it to me right now?” he asked.  “Absolutely!” she said.  ‘I always keep my promises.  Help me put the game away.”

So they put away the game in about 2 minutes.  The houses, hotels, property cards and cash all went back in their rightful places.  “There you have it!” Grandma announced.  “What?” the boy replied.  “Why, your treasure of course,” she answered.  The boy looked at her, uncomprehending.

Again, the Grandma took his hands in hers, looked him in the eye and said, “The treasure I promised you is this bit of wisdom from my father.  At the end of the game, and at the end of your life, it all goes back in the box.  All the things you have acquired will be put back into play for the next players.  All that really matters is who you have loved, and who loves you.”

At first, the boy was disappointed that there was not some secret treasure box filled with gold, but he looked at his grandma, saw the love and tears in her eyes, and gave her a huge hug.  “Thank you so much for loving me!” he said, then he turned to the table and put the lid on the game.

YOU Can Be an Overnight Success!

If you have ever wanted to become an overnight success, I have the formula.  If you want to know the formula, read on because I am going to share it for free!

Here it is:

Intense Focus+ Tremendous Effort… Repeat

Intense Focus+ Tremendous Effort… Repeat

Intense Focus+ Tremendous Effort… Repeat (For as long as it takes) = Overnight Success

The reality is almost nothing worthwhile is accomplished without the steps above.  Behind every overnight success is a lifetime of living out that formula.

So get up, Drink your coffee and get at it.

It may be today. It may be tomorrow; or the next day, or the day after.  You never know when you might become the next overnight success!Coffee

 

Leading From the Middle, 3Rs of Success

is_150828_middle_management_tug_o_war_800x600If you are a Middle Manager like me, you know you have the hardest job in the world.  If you are going to be successful in this role I have learned there are three traits you will have to acquire:

Be Resourceful:  Since you are not at the top of your organization you cannot prioritize your initiatives.  This often means you will have to be creative and find other revenue streams, other cost savings, and creative options to make your projects happen.

Be Relational:  Many times you will not have all the resources you will need to make things happen, so you will have to rely upon relationships you have created and good will you have established with others in your organization.  This means you will have to give more than you take.  Genuine servanthood will be key to achieve things when you lead from the middle.

Be Resilient:  Despite your best efforts, sometimes your priorities will not rise to the top for the organization, or worse yet they do and you fail to make the priority successful.  It will happen if you lead from the middle long enough.  When it does you will have to brush it off and start looking for the next way you can have impact.  You cannot lead from the middle while looking backwards.

 

Three R’s to Takeaway from the Easter Story

easter-calendar-cross_full_widthThis very day is my favorite of the year.  This day means three things to me that have shaped me from the inside out.

Resurrection:  Death has been defeated.  If death can be defeated what else in the universe can limit me?  If I believe in the resurrection, what do I have to fear?

Redemption:  I am forever redeemed from every bad choice, stupid mistake, and failure of will in my past or in my future.  I am clean, not by my own effort but by the removal of my sin and shame by the only One with the power to do so once and for all, with the final words: “It is finished.”

Rejoicing:  No matter what life and this world may throw at me from this point on, nothing can steal the joy that the dawn of that morning in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago has placed in my heart.  The empty grave forever filled my soul with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

Actions Speak Louder Than Knowledge

The amount of knowledge at our fingertips today is remarkable:

Smart phone

Need Directions, hit google maps.  Do you want to know what that actress played in before?  Pull up IMDB.  Where is that Bible Verse?  Access the Bible App?  How do I program my garage door opener?  You Tube will be there for you.

I heard a quote on a podcast recently that if knowledge were truly power we would all be billionaires and have six-pack abs!  It is so true, isn’t it?  With a “Smart” phone we have all the wisdom of the ages, literally at our fingertips, yet the human condition seems little improved.  Why is that?

I think it boils down to three things we must do to leverage knowledge:

Align:  With so much information available, we have to filter out things that do not add value.  There are certainly things that are available that might not align with things that will improve the human condition.  Gambling sites, child pornography, and terrorist networking sites are a few that come to mind.  Beyond that there are things available that may be fine in small doses, but if they consume our calendar they can take away from family, work, and more productive elements to have a successful existence, Pokemon Go, Candy Crush, Netflix streaming, and gaming sites to name a few.  If we are to succeed, we must make sure we are spending our time accessing things that align with the goals we have.

Access:  Having knowledge available has no value whatsoever if one does not access it!  The other day I was driving around lost.  After about 15 minutes it dawned on me that I should pull over the car, and use google maps.  I will never get that 15 minutes back because I chose to delay accessing the information readily available to me.  Many of us have had the experience of losing years of our life because we chose not to take advantage of knowledge available to us.  The good news is that today is a new day.  If we are still breathing we can choose to access the wisdom earned from the pain and successes of others.

Apply:  With all this knowledge so readily available today, I think we have the danger of falling into the same trap as the ancient Greeks.  We can sit around on our phones and computers, IM’ing, texting, face timing, and blogging about our lives much like the ancient Greeks hung out in the Acropolis debating philosophy while first the Roman Empire, then Christianity, then Islam swept across what was once their empire changing and reshaping their reality over and over again.

Unless we take hold of the available knowledge and wisdom and apply it to our lives nothing will change.  This is true in all aspects of our life; family, careers, health, and spirituality.

On the latter point, we have had scriptures available to us for 6,000 years.  The printing press made it more accessible 600 years ago, and now we can access it on our phones, and even listen to it audibly while we commute.  Have we seen that change our generation?  No, because though it is there for us, many of us neglect it, while others of us let it go in one ear and out the other, never allowing it to pass through our hearts and souls.

What knowledge do you think we need to access and apply to create the kind of world we want for our children and grandchildren?

A New #CREED For Your #ROCKY Life

I love the Rocky franchise; from the critically acclaimed to the cheesiest, but I was not expecting to learn a life lesson from the latest release #CREED, but learn I did.  As the grizzled old Rocky was mentoring his young apprentice, Adonis (Donny) Creed (Johnson), he also mentored me with this advice:

“One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time.”  Over and over again, as Rocky trained the son of his best friend, he imparted this wisdom until it sunk deep into the young man’s soul.  “One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time,” and his words reverberated in my psyche.

Life is very much like a prize-fight.  There will be winners, there will be losers, and there will be split decisions that should have gone the other way.  The real secrets to winning the fight of your life are summed up in Rocky’s advice.  Let’s break it down:

One step at a time:

I am an over the hill guy, like Rocky.  I have fewer years in front of me than I do behind me.  One thing I can tell you is that if someone would have shown me at 18 all the hard things I would have to face: loss of loved ones, sickness, pain, poverty, and failure, it would have overwhelmed me.  God, in His infinite wisdom, decided to put us on the earth with only the ability to live in the present, learning from the past and facing the future.  As long as we keep moving “one step at a time” in the direction we wat to go, we make progress.  Now, I can look back at a wonderful, successful, love filled life with its share of hardship, but also with meaning and purpose.  I got here by moving forward, executing on my plans and goals, “one step at a time.”

One punch at a time:

The reality is life is a battle.  From our first breath, death seeks to take us.  We have to fight it everyday.  There are times we will get knocked to the canvass.  The only way we lose for sure is to not get back up.  Sadly I have seen this in my life a couple of times with people close to me.  Life knocked these guys down and they could not get back up.  They just stayed down.  The secret is to stay on the offensive.  When you receive a blow, your enemy has left himself exposed, look for the counter punch!  Press forward (one step at a time) and keep jabbing.  You will take more blows, but you will never win the fight by retreating.  Press in, jab, press in, block, then hook, block, then uppercut.  Take the fight to the enemy.  Remember the enemy is death, defeat it by living life to the full;  Live, Laugh, and Love.  Jab, hook, uppercut.

One Round at a Time

The fight of your life is a long one.  Fifteen rounds are for lightweights!  You will grow weary and you will want to throw in the towel to stop the blows from coming.  At that point, remember: This round will end!  You will be able to go to your corner, get some rest, get some coaching, and salve the wounds.  This is ALWAYS the case.  There is always an end to a round.  Wait for it, and then when it comes, don’t stay in the ring.  Go to your corner, get what you need to recover and get renewed, because the bell for the next round will sound, and the fight will resume.

Before the Final Bell

Finally, Creed learned that it was OK for him to acknowledge he was his father’s son.  It was OK to take advantage of his Father’s name to influence his future.  It is OK for you too.  You have a Father who has passed to you what you need to fulfill your destiny.  You do not have to do it all on your own power.  He has provided for you to give you a future and hope.  He may not be visible, but he is here.  He loves you and He can still give you what it takes to win the fight.

 

3 Essentials for a Great Life (Hope, Hard Work, Habits)

It is Thanksgiving morning.  I think that most of us in the United States can acknowledge that we have a great life.  The reality of our situation compared to the rest of the planet has been the result of three essential elements that form the backbone of our nation’s prosperity.  In order for the next generation to prosper further, I think we need to reinforce these elements at this critical juncture in history.  Are we going to slide into the doldrums of socialism, or are we going to reawaken the hallmarks of our Free Market, Capitalist society?:

Hope

Hope says that no matter what trials and tribulations we face things can, and will, get better.  It is born out of a faith in an all-powerful creator that loves us like the perfect father and is “working all things together for our good.”  It is much easier to have hope if one believes in a benevolent deity than if all you are counting on is the selfish nature of man!

Hard Work

Work Ethic has always played a crucial role in the success of our society.  Combined with our innovation, it has propelled the United States to lead the world in productivity.  One driving factor is that entrepreneurial small companies still employ more than half of the workforce in the US.  The little guy can, and still does, get ahead.  This potential has been fueled even more by the advent of the internet and the ability to be productive from almost anywhere at any time.

Yet we have an epidemic of malaise that seems to have hit our workforce, and a political machine that wants to create a society dependent upon governmental intervention and entitlements.  Gone is the stigma associated with accepting welfare and unemployment. Instead we have a liberal elite who want to be seen as Robin Hood, stealing from the “evil” rich and distributing to the “less fortunate.”  In reality they are stealing from hard-working people who have been wise with what has been entrusted to them, often to support people who neither work hard, nor make wise choices with their lives.

There certainly are people with needs to be addressed, but government has proven to be the least efficient vehicle for that aid, and it creates generational dependence.  Rather than giving a leg up, they tread on the hopes and dreams that can lift people out of their current state.

Habits

This is where the rubber hits the road.  Is our society rewarding habits like responsible financial management, saving and giving, or is it rewarding irresponsible childish habits like living off the work of others, spending more than they have, and then expecting others taxes to pay their debt because it is not “fair.”  Are we rewarding the young adults who devise a plan to get the education they need to develop a career track, working their way through college doing internships that show they have learned things that have value in the marketplace, or do we reward the ones who spend 5 years at college on low-income grants playing beer pong and throwing keggers, and then come out and lament that the piece of paper they have been handed is not Willie Wonka’s golden ticket to wealth and riches?

I am so thankful for the freedom and opportunity our country affords.  I pray today that we do not allow hopelessness to rob us of the values that make us great.  I have children, and hopefully one day grandchildren, that need to be free to succeed and achieve an even greater life than the one I have been blessed to lead.

Winners Plan, Planners Win!

Do you want to win?  You better learn how to plan!  Almost nobody wanders into success.  Success in any arena takes intentionality. A successful life requires intentionality across all dimensions of life.  Zig Ziglar summed these up as the seven spokes in the “Wheel of Life:”

  • Career
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Family
  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

In order to have the type of life we all dream of having we need to plan first to have time to devote to all seven dimensions, and then have a plan in each of these arenas, both short-term, and long-term, if you really expect to achieve results in each area.

Finally, you must realize that a plan is only a plan, subject to change.  A friend of mine who has retired from a distinguished military career including combat command says the army has a saying about this reality:

Fight the Enemy, Not the Plan!

We have to realize that no matter how in-depth and detailed our planning is, that when we go to execute on the plan, things change.  The enemy defies our expectations, unforeseen external forces come into play, we forgot to contemplate a variable altogether…  What do we do at that point?  If you want to win, you cannot run, you cannot wave the white flag…  We have to adjust the plan and press forward to our objective, even if that means a temporary retreat to re-engage under better circumstances.  Just because you made a plan, don’t be married to it!  You did not take a vow to serve the plan “til death do you part.”

With the liberating thought that plans are made to be changed, let me throw out a few challenges for planning across the dimensions of the wheel of life:

  • Career-  How are you doing on executing this year’s plan in your current career role?  Do you know your next step for promotion at your current employer, or advancement by moving on to another?  If you are an entrepreneur, what will take your company to the next level?
  • Social- Who are you planning on having over for dinner in the next month?  What are you doing to create or tie into a network of friends that you can enjoy life with when your kids have flown the coop?
  • Financial- How are you doing at living within your budget this month?  Does every dollar have a name?  Are you telling your money where to go before the month begins, or wondering where it went when the month is through?  What is your number to reach financial independence so you can literally do whatever you want to do for the rest of your life?  How long until you get to that number?
  • Family- Do you have time set aside on your calendar each day to connect with your spouse?  Do you have a weekly date night?  How about a night for a family devotion with the kids?
  • Physical- How many calories can you consume and maintain your weight, or how many do you need to cut to get to where you want to be.  What will you eat today to reach that amount?  How much will you need to exercise if you eat that Krispy Kreme?  Is there time on your calendar set aside for exercise?  Could you maybe combine that with time with your spouse, or time to pursue intellectual pursuits with audible books or podcasts?
  • Mental- What are you doing to expand your knowledge in your specific career track.  Who are you reading or listening to in order to become a better leader, better spouse, better father, better person?  Can you make use of that awful highway commute by tapping into the information superhighway?  Can you listen to podcasts on your commute, your run, or on the elliptical?
  • Spiritual- Do you have time on your calendar each day to pray and meditate?  Could you turn your car into your prayer closet?  Is there a group of like-minded people at your work place who might like to study scripture or a book exploring scripture, together.  What are you doing today to answer the most important question in life?  When you stand before the maker of the universe and he asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”

The biggest part of successful planning is committing to do it.  If you want success in an area of life that you are not winning in today, MAKE A PLAN!

My FitBit Died, Do My Steps Still Count?

The other day I was on a long walk with my wife and I realized my FitBit was dead!  I set a goal to walk 4 miles a day this year and I need those miles to count!  I was so distraught at this turn of events that I could feel my blood pressure rising.  After a couple of minutes of voicing my frustration my wife was so amused that she laughingly stated, “don’t worry honey, I’ll give you credit for the miles!”

Sometimes I think that we have created stressful environments as leaders by all the scoreboards, dashboards we try to look good on and accountability lists we all try to keep our names off of.  We spend all our time documenting results and justifying variances that we forget to enjoy the “walk!”

I know we need to measure results and have accountability in our organizations, but how often do we keep our teams from taking a new and better path that we see in the middle of a fiscal year because our incentive compensation is tied to things that seemed really important 10 months earlier when goals were set, but in reality will not have as much impact as something we recognize after the fiscal year begins?  Many times industrious self-starters tackle the new initiatives, but when goal review comes around, the miles on those initiatives do not count.

If you are a leader, make sure there is flexibility to tell your team to take that new path and you will still give them credit for that extra mile!