Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: "How to get out of debt, stay out of debt & live prosperously" by Jerrold Mundis

I distinctly remember the thoughts that ran through my head as I picked up this book to read. In the (hopefully not too) distant future I plan to host and facilitate Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to as many people as I possibly can who are open to the material. In doing so I want to be on the top of my game in answering questions, providing counseling and offering real-world advice…You know, all those things that those we bestow a “fiduciary responsibility” to never do.

I wanted to delve back into the psyche and understand why we go into debt and in many cases why we stay there. Why do we allow credit card companies, Sallie Mae and auto dealers teach us about the rules of debt rather than learning on our own? Essentially, for someone head over heels in debt sitting in an FPU class, what is it that they are thinking and how can I help “facilitate” (I really mean coach and help) to show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel regardless of how much you make or how high the climb is? The course of the book lead me, like many great books I have read, to a very uncomfortable place, my mirror.

Mundis pulls absolutely no punches in making the case and points that the use of debt (whether “good” or bad debt, excessive use of if you “pay it off at the end of the month”) is addictive. Placing debt addiction right in line with addictions, pains and struggles that come along with misuse of drugs, sex and food. I can directly relate in addition to my own struggles with the uses of debt, because I too struggled with one of the aforementioned addictions.

I have very clear and distinct memories of my own personal destructive path, my recovery and everything in between. A lot of it filled with pain from destroying myself along with those that I cared about most. And a lot of it filled with love and compassion from those that stood by me, had gone through what I was going through and the unending love from an unseen force that, in the only way I can really describe it, carried me through everything. Okay, I’ll say it here, looking back on everything, in my darkest hours when I hit bottom, I’m reminded of a poem/short story that I’m sure many of you may remember from childhood.

The story goes that at the end of our lives we walk hand in hand on a beach with God. We are told that when we look back at the trail of our lives, there are generally two sets of footprints: ours and God’s. There are distinct areas though when only one set of foot prints exist, these are our darkest hours, worst times, whatever you want to call them. Irate we say to God, “Where the hell were you then? I needed you and there is proof, only one set of prints.” These prints are pressed deep into the sand to symbolize the weight of the times. God replies, “It was during then that I carried you.”

God carried me through the worst hours I have known as a human being.

In the context of what I was drew from the book, it is important for me to let those seeking personal financial counsel know that I support them 100%, no questions asked, with everything that I have. It doesn’t matter what the debt numbers are, what’s owed to who, or how long your financial adviser “thinks” it will take you to climb out. There is hope and light in the tunnel, and the tools available, though old fashioned and basic in approach, truly are the strongest and most efficient we have available, and if I can do it, ANYONE AND EVERYONE can do it too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: "Good to Great" by Jim Collins

(Sorry Dave) “Good to Great” was without a shadow of the doubt the best new (to me) book read this year. I highly recommend that you get your hands and eyes on this book at whatever cost is necessary. Borrow it from a library, buy it used from amazon, this is a must read that should be in every book collection. In it, Jim Collins and his super team of nerds break down the nuts and bolts of the action steps and attitudes that companies faced when transitioning from being good to great. Yes there is an unbelievable amount of data and breakdown and clarification of what good to great means in the book for all intents and purposes, but that is exactly what unites us nerds when reading this book.

It’s been rare but mid-way through this book I became sad at the eventual fact that the book would come to its eventual conclusion. Page after page my eyes were glued and my fact taking went into overdrive as the facts, figures, actions and commonalities were laid out as to what the good to great companies did to become an “overnight success” after decades upon decades of unbelievable time and effort.

Though not an aspiring entrepreneur I took a lot of the applications that the companies used and applied them to my life. Essentially, to be successful am I taking the right steps and holding the right outlook in how I see things go round. Needless to say I was very pleasantly surprised that a lot of the values lined up and I had some awesome notes on things that I can improve upon. My favorite common factors including holding a long term view in building wealth and not getting caught up or even involved in fads and fly by the seat of your pants planning. The leaders of good to great companies planned and executed for the long term, worked within their strengths, knew the limitations of their businesses and, most importantly, got the wrong people off their bus, the right people on their bus, and, for extra fun, got the right people in the right seats on the bus.

Whether running your own business or reaching to achieve your own personal financial goals, “Good to Great” is a must read along with Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover.”  

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Time-Out

I absolutely hate having long lay-offs and retreats from the things that I love. At the top of that list is time for enhancing my spirituality, spending time with my wife, and my newfound old passion – writing. The past few weeks have been some of the longest and most trying times in my entire career. Our normal work volume went up more than four-fold in a single day, and now, to this day, two weeks removed, we are still dealing with the fallout. There’s no sugarcoating it, the entire experienced sucked royally. Long days, short (if any) lunch breaks, the tension overall would drive a sane man to insanity, which I nearly hit on more than one occasion.

But coming out of it I feel a lot more competent and able on the job, have a newfound sense of camaraderie with my colleagues, and rest easy in the fact that I’m surrounded with a team that is more than willing and able to work hard. Sure, we get on each other’s nerves and at times we’re just about ready to kill one another, but I believe in my heart that the experience has been for the best and we are a better team and individuals for it.

I got to celebrate this momentous passing by participating in an annual event at my church called “The Alternative Giving Fair.” The idea is to promote an anti-consumer driven Christmas season. For one Saturday in December our church becomes a place to make home-made Christmas gifts at awesome prices, and all proceeds benefit a designated charity every year. This year we selected Water for Waslala, an organization providing clean water for a Nicaraguan community. The event was a blast to plan and participate in and I had several “sit back and enjoy the moment” memories, happy to be apart of the faith community that I am.

In giving my time and resources I also received so much more in return. My soul felt filled with joy above and beyond capacity. In talking with people throughout the day I felt connected and a bit like my old self, someone I haven’t seen probably since high school. And when it came to shopping, well, you may classify me generally as an “Ultimate Cheapskate in the making,” but I have never enjoyed or been happier spending my money on gifts than I was at the AGF. I voted with dollars and cents what was important to me for gift giving and that causes like Water for Waslala prioritize my values, not overpriced and marked up clothing at a retailer.

So all in all I’m happy to be back and look forward to closing out the year with more musings and getting back on track to start 2012!