All posts by Hero

The Big 100: Reflections on the Journey

Sometimes I keep my nose so close to the grindstone that I momentarily lose touch with everything going on around me. This ability channel tunnel vision and focus my attention is good at times and burdensome at others. It leads me to accomplish many of the goals I set into motion, yet it often stifles my ability to switch gears.

I have been in two primary gears the past several weeks: school-mode and real estate-mode. At times, my real estate side hustle has been the equivalent of a second full-time –albeit, a very fun, second full-time job which feels like anything but a j-o-b.

As you may imagine, I’ve lost focus and time on the blog during that same stretch. Posts have been a bit more sporadic, and reading and commenting on my favorite blogs has been sparse. Yet somehow, I find myself siting here ready to publish this post, number 100, and marveling at how far this little website has come in only 7 months.

Any blogger will gladly tell you that maintaining your own blog requires tremendous commitment. The hustle and bustle of life fight to test that commitment. They challenge a blogger’s resolve. Today, as I enjoy time to reflect upon the goals and mission which inspired my creation of this site, I am reminded of its value.

If the use of my time were simply a matter of achieving the best financial outcomes, I would certainly cease devoting time to such a relatively low-income hobby and funnel all of my available discretionary time toward my real estate business. In the grand scheme of things, increased efforts in this area hold the highest probability of increased returns, mathematically speaking.

As I reflect, it is hard to envision where and how commitment factors into the equation. It’s been over a decade since I last studied calculus, and I don’t think basic arithmetic will get the job done in this case, so let’s distill this down in the only way I know how:

Personal finance has surprisingly very little to do with figures and a lot to do with feelings.

Many financial writers argue that separating feelings and money is vitally important. They speak as if a consistent level of stoicism is the solution to all financial woes. I used to think in this manner.

Other writers feel that some emotions and feelings – namely peace, joy, and contentment – should not be separated from our financial outlooks, while some – fear, jealousy, and embarrassment, among many others – have no place in a healthy financial outlook. I agree with many folks in this camp.

The more I write and reflect upon the role of money in my life,  my vision for “Restoring Order to the World of Finance” becomes simultaneously clearer and murkier. (It’s no surprise to me that it has taken 100 posts to reach this level of clarity; truth be told, I consider myself to be a rather slow learner.) Rationality, logic, and planning are constantly at war with personal biases, behavioral tendencies, and the chemical/biological processes which influence them. In short, personal finance is complicated stuff.

So what should we do about all of this? Keep thinking, feeling, experimenting, testing, discussing, and growing, for starters. Continue learning from others. Challenge patterns and long-held assumptions.

As for me, I will keep writing. My thoughts and feelings on personal finance have changed more in the last 7 months than I ever could have imagined. I’m looking forward to learning more as this journey continues to unfold.

Here’s to another 100 posts and a continued resolve toward Restoring Order to the World of Finance,

Finance Superhero

 

The Benefits of Giving and Generosity

As the past few weeks and months have shown, the United States currently run rampant with problems. Racism, violence, misogyny, and bigotry are impossible to ignore, easy to diagnose, and difficult to cure. I believe these problems, though significant and important on their own, may be traced back to a larger problem: selfishness. And I believe there is a cure for selfishness: outrageous giving and generosity.

Undeniably, selfishness is woven deeply into the fabric of America. It may even be part of our human core, though the jury is still out on the nature of human genetics. Perhaps long-standing capitalism has sewn and grown its fair share of selfishness over several decades. It is what leads us to work harder and harder to amass more for ourselves. The problem is that many people have bought into the lie which trumpets “more for me equals less for you.”

No matter what financial hurdles we may face, growing in giving and generosity will always help us improve our financial outlooks.
U.S. Giving Adjusted for Inflation (Source: Philanthropy Round Table)

Yet, our internal selfishness is often no match for our hearts’ desires to show empathy toward others. This is evident in the small things, like holding doors for others, and the big things, like the collective $358 billion in charitable giving by Americans in 2014.

Call me an optimist, but I believe that selfishness and empathy can co-exist when applied in healthy doses. Most of us, myself included, tend to be naturally good at looking out for own best interests. Thinking outside ourselves requires deliberation and conscious effort; actually acting on behalf of others requires a steady dose of humility to boot.

Self-Benefits of Giving and Generosity

For the person of even average ambition, striking a balance between ambition and contentment is an ongoing challenge. I face this battle every day, and I lose more often than I win. I know that more prestige, money, and belongings will not provide the lasting happiness which I seek, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to attain it in this manner anyway. 

In The Legacy Journey, Dave Ramsey writes, “Giving is the antidote for selfishness. It’s the hallmark character quality of those who win with money.” I believe Ramsey is correct, as giving leads to humility and contentment. In the act of giving, the giver admits that she has enough, that the time or resources being given are needed more by someone else. It is empowering to realize this truth because it supports action. When we give to others and realize that we no longer miss what has been generously given, we are one step closer to contentment. With contentment comes the ability to manage finances with wisdom and restraint.

Contentment is not the only self-benefit of giving. In my experience, giving and generosity ultimately help us grow to be better receivers. As Arthur Miller wrote,

A closed hand cannot receive. The phrase has a Biblical ring, and a Biblical wisdom that applies profoundly to everyday human affairs. The man who will not share himself with his neighbors receives little friendship in return. . .

. . . To be sower of seeds, a man must open his hand. He must do this, clearly, before he can reap. And the process doesn’t stop there. To possess knowledge or wisdom, he must open his mind. If he wants to receive love, he must offer it – and to do this he will need an open heart.

Look around and you will see the truth of these five words shining everywhere. A closed hand cannot receive – partly because it is shut, and nothing can get in. But mostly because it has nothing to give.

While giving requires humility, receiving may require even more. I naturally prefer giving to others rather than receiving, but as I have reflected on the reasons why this is so, pride is the only answer.

Giving and generosity are good not only for mental health but also physical well-being. According to several studies, they also can lower blood pressure, improve self-esteem, decrease stress, and boost life expectancy.

Giving Benefits Others

It seems so obvious that giving generously to others directly benefits others, but this is often the last benefit we consider when choosing to give.

Giving to others goes far beyond financial benefits. Hope and faith in others have a more lasting impact, in many cases, even after the money has been spent. The emotions which result from acts of giving, for both the giver and the receiver, are valuable in ways which cannot be measured in isolation. The following video is a poignant reminder.

A Call to Give

During this fragile time, in which holiday spirit and cheer may fail to counterbalance a climate of fear and worry, humble yourself and demonstrate giving and generosity to your fellow man. Increase your annual holiday donations. Volunteer your time and talents to serve those who are less fortunate. Foster goodwill by paying for the coffee for the driver behind you in the Starbucks line. At our cores, we are not much different from one another. When you give, you better yourself, improve your financial management, and close the gaps which divide us all.


How do you give to others? How will you be generous this holiday season? How do you feel your giving and generosity benefit others?

How Much Hustle Is Too Much?

These days, it seems there is a widening gap in our country. No, I’m not talking about the gap between Hillary and Donald supporters, though that gap may continue to grow even as the country attempts to unite under a Trump presidency. The gap I am referring to is the gap between those who hustle and those who do not; those who work multiple jobs and those who barely work at all; those who apply some elbow grease and those who dally; those who apply themselves to the fullest and those who lead a lackadaisical life of leisure.

Let’s call them The Hustlers and The Spectators.

These two groups are what we might label diametrically opposed; one values pushing oneself to the limits in search of accomplishment, while the other seeks to avoid so at all costs.

I’ve found myself in both camps at distinct times in my life. While it’s worth noting that we all go through natural seasons in life, sometimes the life of a Hustler or Spectator is a conscious choice. We weigh the benefits of both paths and choose to reap what appears to be the most enticing rewards. Sometimes life decides for us.

For the sake of discussion, let us simply define a Hustler as one who engages in one or more of the following:

*Works more than 40 hours per week

*Holds more than one job

*Actively seeks side jobs and extra gigs to earn additional money

For the most part, I am surrounded by Hustlers. Teachers seem to be routinely bashed as glorified babysitters by those on the outside, but they are among the hardest-working and most-underpaid professionals. Most bloggers manage to squeeze out time to remain dedicated to their craft despite other full-time work, family demands, and the ever-present call to rest. And let us not forget the hardest workers of all, mothers, who are always on the clock.

This saturation of hustle all around me has provoked a great deal of thought over the past several weeks. It has led me to ask an important question:

How much hustle is too much?

When it comes to a side hustle, we weigh the benefits and choose the most rewarding path. But how much hustle is too much?

The Benefits of Extreme Hustle

Last week, from Thursday morning until Sunday evening, I found myself in either work mode or sleep mode. My time was used very efficiently: work at the day job, real estate showings, phone calls, scheduling, and a charity event. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t have time to devote to the blog.

Some may consider this use of time to be a bit extreme, but I see many benefits of this brand of extreme hustle:

*Less time to blow money on stupid things

*Increased opportunities for fulfillment

*The chance to make a difference for others

*Remain mentally sharp even as you age

The Downsides of Extreme Hustle

On the other hand, to be transparent, I was running on fumes by the time Sunday evening rolled around. All of the hustle and bustle had finally caught up with me. Fortunately, I have always been able to adapt and recover quickly after burning both ends of the candle. Others may not recover so quickly, leaving them susceptible to the downsides of extreme hustle:

*Too much stress

*Decreased happiness if your hustling does not align with your gifts and interests

*Less time for family, recreation, community engagement

The Answer

As with most questions related to personal finance, the answer is best decided by the person who matters most: you.

I believe everyone should have a side hustle these days, as the benefits outweigh the negatives. But exactly how much time should be devoted to that side hustle is a very personal matter.

Working too much can actually be bad. We all have our limits. It takes a sadistic person to torture himself with never-ending work. It should not be a point of pride to be too busy to do anything other than work, eat, shower, and sleep, in my opinion.

Four Signs You’re Doing Too Much

A) You forget things- a lot.

B) You have lost touch with most of your closest friends.

C) You have rearranged your personal schedule for work multiple times in the past month.

D) Your efficiency severely lags. If you find yourself frequently multi-tasking (which has been shown to be a myth), it might be time to re-evaluate your level of hustle.


Readers, how much hustle is too much? How do you evaluate your use of time?

Four Financial Lies People Actually Believe

It has been over six months since I launched Finance Superhero. Life is completely different now than it was back in April 2016. The changes have all been for the better. I am living, breathing proof that it is possible to make big changes if you’re willing to reject financial lies and avoid the path of least resistance. My situation is nothing special; in fact, other bloggers have stories which are far more inspirational and motivating.

During the past several months, however, I’ve noticed a consistent problem is being perpetuated among those who doubt the benefits and joys of common sense financial management. There is a prevailing sense among many people that their situation is somehow different, special, or daunting, and that these specific circumstances prevent them from paying off debt, building emergency savings, buying a home, or investing for retirement. For these people, whining and complaining drive the self-pity train toward mediocrity.

Most people are quick to give in to their own inner whining and accept the path of least resistance. I do it time to time, and so do you. We have bought into financial lies!

Common Financial Lies

Over the years, I have heard a number of financial lies. As they are repeated over and over, louder and louder, many people buy into the myths. Then they join in and spread the nonsense themselves. In no particular order, here is a collection of common financial lies:

1. The little guy never gets ahead.

I often wonder who started this myth and why it continues to linger in the collective consciousness of the people. It is ironic that this statement is believed by so many, while countless underdog stories prove otherwise.

For example, consider the life of businessman Tom Gores. Born in Israel, Gores moved to the United States prior to turning five years old. He grew up playing playing football, basketball and baseball at Genesee High School in Genesee, Michigan. He stocked shelves at his father’s grocery story in nearby Flint, graduated high school in 1982, and attend Michigan State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Management.

A host of financial lies continue to spread and stop the average person from winning with money. Reject these typical financial lies immediately!
Photo credit to Carlos Osorio/AP/Detroit Free Press

Gores did not experience a privileged upbringing by any stretch of the imagination.

Today, Gores’ net worth is $3.3 billion. The founder of Platinum Equity and majority owner of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Gores is a self-made man. His high school coaches credit his business successes to his competitiveness, perseverance, and decision-making. None of them expected the quiet-but-talented athlete from a town of 24,000 people to follow the path Gores has blazed, but the little guy did it.

2. I’ll always have debt of some kind. It is a necessary tool for most people.

My head nearly explodes every time I hear this or a similar variation. Yes, debt is a tool, and I do believe it can be used wisely in select situations. But to insinuate that it is necessary hints at a larger problem: Americans are drowning in consumer debt.

I will not sport a holier-than-thou position and claim that debt has not helped me. Debt has allowed me to earn two college degrees and buy a house. However, these experiences would have been unquestionably sweeter had debt not been part of the equation.

3. I’ll always have a car payment/car lease because I can’t afford a nice car without one.

This financial lie makes my blood boil. The truth is that moving up in vehicle is a process which need not involve debt nor take long if you are willing to be patient for a short time. Mathematically-speaking, a car payment is costly and a car lease is usually the worst method of operating a vehicle.

Related: The Finance Superhero Rules for Car Buying

Let’s suppose you currently own a $2,000 beater car. While it is likely to depreciate over the next 12-24 months, I am willing to bet the vehicle could be sold for $2,000 in 18 months with careful marketing. Let’s also suppose that you saved $250 per month for 18 months prior to selling the beater. Through this flipping method, you could afford a $6500 vehicle. Continue the plan for another 18 months and an $11,000 vehicle is in reach. One additional cycle could allow you to purchase a vehicle valued at $15,500.  In four and a half years, you’ve moved up in car from a 1993 Honda Civic to a 2013 Hyundai Elantra. And you did it without a single payment! Of course, saving more than $250 per month could significantly change the conversation.

4. I deserve to be paid more than my current salary.

I find this phrase (and similar offshoots) is most often uttered by millennials. Please allow me to apologize for the collective whining of my generation.

Most millennials really need a lifestyle and attitude adjustment, not a salary adjustment. While the millennial median income is admittedly low across the United States, that hasn’t stopped millennials from living far beyond their means.

Facebook envy and the fear of missing out is largely to blame. Pictures of new cars and new houses lead the average millennial, especially men, into foolish spending in order to maintain appearances.

I am not saying that millennials should not increase their earnings. However, I am saying that whining is not the way to achieve that increase. If you believe you are underpaid, demonstrate your worth. Gather statistics which prove your worth and present them to your supervisor at the appropriate time.


Readers, what financial lies do you most often hear? Why do you think they continue to spread?

Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

One year prior to marrying Mrs. Superhero, I became a gung-ho personal finance enthusiast. For the next several months, I ate, slept, and breathed money. I read financial books in my spare time and listened to podcasts during my two hour round trip daily commute. Just for fun, I began watching the now defunct Dave Ramsey Show on Fox Business and The Suze Orman show on MSNBC.

At the time, I had just started my first job teaching elementary school music. I lived with a roommate, drove a 2000 Ford Taurus with nearly 200,000 miles, and lived on a reasonably frugal budget for a bachelor. The soon-to-be Mrs. Superhero was completing her senior year and preparing for a similar career teaching music.

Call us old-fashioned, but we made it a priority to attend pre-marital counseling during our engagement. At our first meeting, the pastor who planned to officiate our ceremony asked us both to complete a brief questionnaire in order to develop a priority list for our sessions.

Not surprisingly, we both scored very highly in the area of personal finance. The soon-to-be Mrs. Superhero is a natural saver, and my near-obsession with personal finance had contributed to her gain of my new-found knowledge by osmosis. After asking us both if we had ever heard of Dave Ramsey or his book — we both had done so — the pastor informed us that we would be “fine.”

In reality, we weren’t going to be “fine.”

A storm was already brewing.

The First Money Talk

I will always remember our first family budget meeting. Shortly after our honeymoon, we sat down among stacks of moving boxes at the old oak dining room table in our rented townhouse. I was excited to do some intense number crunching, formulate projections, and dream about our future as husband and wife. To say I had preconceived notions about how this meeting was going to go would be an understatement.

We began the meeting by reviewing the state of our current emergency savings. Mrs. Superhero’s eyes lit up as we pored over the numbers; not because they were terribly high or impressive, but because she had worked and saved up $2,000 of our emergency fund during the past year, all while taking 19 credit hours, practicing flute and piano for hours and hours each day, and performing in the university orchestra and band. Never one to allow my agenda to be interrupted, I stated that we needed to boost our meager savings as soon as possible.

Next, we reviewed the budget I had put together the day before. I had pre-determined every single dollar of spending on paper and presented each category one-by-one in a very matter-of-fact manner. Mrs. Superhero listened intently, and when I had finished my review, I asked if she had “any questions.” Sensing the rhetorical nature of my question, Mrs. Superhero said “no.”

At this point, I’m sure I was feeling quite proud of myself for directing such an efficient meeting, so I moved to wrap-up the meeting and continue unpacking. Mrs. Superhero sheepishly agreed. Meeting closed.

In hindsight, I had no idea how to talk about money with my spouse. I could talk at her about money until I turned blue in the face, yet conversing with her hadn’t even entered my radar. There wasn’t much authentic communication happening.

Compounding Irritation

When it comes to money and marriage, a system of communication is vital. Read on and learn how to (and how NOT to) talk about money with your spouse.Prior to our marriage, I was genuinely excited about the merger of money and marriage. Call it naivete or wishful thinking, but I had no idea that it would be a challenge. A few months into our marriage, I thought things were going well. Mrs. Superhero had graduated in December and secured a long-term substitute teaching position for the spring. At our next budget meeting, I naturally came prepared with spreadsheets and figures illustrating how I had planned to utilize the coming increasing in our budgeted income. Though I deserved it, I was not prepared for what was about to happen next.

In no uncertain terms, Mrs. Superhero informed me that she had gone along with my “control of the budget” so far, but now she wanted a voice in the budget process. Immediately, I went on the defensive and argued that she had always had a voice in the process. As you can imagine, the conversation’s quality quickly eroded from this point.

How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Thankfully, Mrs. Superhero and I have grown in our ability to talk about money. We understand each other better with each passing year, and our need to discuss our finances in detail has greatly diminished. We have a system to keep our money and marriage on track.

This system took time to develop. It required an understanding of our individual financial inclinations and values. Once we came to a collective understanding — that I enjoy and value sensible stewardship and planning ahead and Mrs. Superhero values financial security and balancing the priorities of the future with today’s needs — we were well on our way toward happiness.

Money and Marriage – The Wrong Way

Needless to say, however, I made several mistakes early on, and they were damaging to our money and marriage. I have done things “the wrong way,” and it was damaging and discouraging.

1. Overuse the words “I” and “you” when discussing money.

Speaking these words frequently when discussing money is a sure fire way to create a divisive conversation. You will cause your spouse to become standoffish or even adversarial when the topic of money arises.

For example, “You spent too much money at the grocery store” and “I need a newer car” are two phrases which I actually spoke during early budget meetings. The words “you” and “I” super-charged these conversations with negative emotions. They made my wife defensive about her shopping and concerned about future spending on a vehicle.

2. Keeping your financial lives separate.

I know this will be a sticking point for many readers, but it is imperative that you and your spouse join your accounts and view your assets and income collectively. Separating money is a sure fire way to create silly fights and senseless drama. It also serves to unreasonably highlight whether one spouse is the primary breadwinner. When you decided to marry and merge your lives, you pledged to be partners, not competitors.

I believe this idea also includes the mental separation of income by source. When the primary earner holds that fact over the other spouse’s head, a fight is sure to follow.

3. Hiding debt or assets from your spouse. 

Before you marry, it is time to let all of your financial skeletons out of the closet. If you have bad debts from years of betting on horse racing, it’s time to come clean. It’s also time to share that you inherited $150,000 from Aunt Rosie. This kind of behavior is common, and it’s toxic to your marriage; according to a CreditCard.com survey, approximately 6 million people have concealed financial accounts from their spouse. Be honest so you can work together to clean-up bad debts or wisely formulate a plan for large sums of money or other assets.

Thankfully, I never had odd debts (or assets, unfortunately!) to hide.

Money and Marriage – The Right Way

1. Identify your common ground for your vision of the future.

If you’ve never done this before, it is easy. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen, and begin listing how you envision your future at various stages in life. How many kids will you have? Where will you live? Will you travel frequently? Will you support your children through college? Will you both work full-time? For how long?

The answers to these questions will provide common ground for the goals which meet at the intersection of your marriage and money; they will help you answer the “why?” questions which may arrive as you plan your financial affairs.

2. Learn to speak your spouse’s financial language.

When I finally realized that Mrs. Superhero values future security and balancing the priorities of both today and tomorrow, I learned how to frame financial discussions in a manner which actually matters to her. Now that our discussions include these perspectives by default, we are making better decisions which align with our collective goals.

Perhaps your spouse is a numbers person. Maybe he or she responds better to be emotional appeal. It is your job to discover their financial language and communicate in a manner which is meaningful yet non-manipulative.

3. Honor each other’s wishes as your circumstances allow.

This can be a difficult step for many people, especially for Extreme Frugalites, but it is important to give and take for the sake of your spouse. I, for example, have no desire to add to my already-fine wardrobe of slacks, jeans, button down shirts, polos, and t-shirts. But Mrs. Superhero enjoys purchasing a few new clothing items each month. Similarly, I enjoy trying new and interesting imported and craft beer. Neither of these indulgences is significant enough to derail us from goals, so we have learned to appreciate the little things which make each other happy.

Final Words

While the advice in this piece is designed to promote harmony between marriage and money, in the end, I must be clear: our marriage is far more important than any financial concerns, goals, or dreams which may fill our minds and hearts. It is easy to lose sight of this priority in the heat of the moment, but over the long haul, Mrs. Superhero and I have been successful in our marriage and money because the latter ALWAYS takes the back seat to the former.


How do you ensure a healthy relationship between marriage and money? How often do you and your spouse talk about money? How do you stay on the same page with your plans, dreams, and goals?

Retire With Dignity – Reject the Normal Financial Outlook

Everything is relative when it comes to money and determining what is “normal.” At least that is what we have been conditioned to believe over time. The normal financial outlook is very different for blue collar workers and executives, plumbers and CEOs, and teachers and doctors. Unfortunately, a statistical average generated among such a wide variety of professions and incomes does little good in helping us learn what normal looks like today.

Income, of course, is only half the battle. On the flip side, expenses complicate the search for normal even further. Even two doctors with identical incomes and living in $450,000 homes in San Francisco, California and Arlington, Texas, respectively, may have wildly differing expense to income ratios due to property taxes and cost of living discrepancies.

So where does this leave the search? Is a “normal financial outlook” definable?

Is a "normal financial outlook" definable? Everything is relative when it comes to money, yet the desire to be normal could be sabotaging your efforts.

A Normal Financial Outlook is a Fallacy

The other day, I spoke with a friend about the manner in which “normal” people manage their finances. After citing problem after problem, we came to a realization: We won’t want to be normal. Normal is broke, greedy, overconfident, and unfulfilled. 

Following our conversation, I pondered the idea a bit more and came to a conclusion which I believe is tight enough to hold water: the average person’s desire to be normal is to be blame for his pessimistic financial outlook. Furthermore, normal is simply a self-defeating social construct which ultimately holds us back.

Consider the following connections:

*The desire to be normal drives us to take on a 72 month auto loan so we can drive the same car as our colleague; never mind the fact that the vehicle will be worth a fraction of its sticker value when the loan is paid off.

*The desire to be normal motivates us to take on the maximum pre-approved mortgage when looking for a home. It also causes us to spend at an unreasonable clip to furnish the home at high interest rates and rationalize it because “everyone else is doing it.” Many normal people will end up paying nearly twice the value of their home due to 30 years of interest accumulation (or more if they refinance to another 30 year mortgage after several years of paying on an initial 30 year mortgage).

*Because most normal people do not have any idea how much money they will need to live on in retirement, we adopt a normal mindset and rationalize that “it will all work out.”

*The desire to be normal leads us to go out with colleagues each day rather than brown bagging it for lunch. This kind of “normal” comes at a cost of over $100,000 over a working career.

These are only a few examples, but they drive home the truth that normal is bad.

Normal is the Worst

Statistically speaking, normal people are house poor, broke, in debt, and destined to slave away for 40-50 years only to retire in old age and poor health. And this is what most of us strive to become?

I have a different vision for my future. I don’t want it to be anything close to “normal.” As a result, I’m doing the sensible things now to ensure that my family’s future isn’t depressingly bleak.

First and foremost, I am consistently striving to challenge my everyday perception of “normal.” I know that if I surround myself with people and experiences which are “normal,” I will fight the desire to live abnormally. On the other hand, if I surround myself with people who share my view of what is “normal,” I am cultivating a healthier perception of the idea itself. This is vital.

Mrs. Superhero and I have intentionally taken steps to become good friends with others who share this mindset. For example, one couple we frequently spend time with also maintains an entertainment/dining budget. We have no qualms with being transparent about that among our families, which often leads to double dates at our home in lieu of expensive meals out. We look at as iron sharpening iron.

Secondly, Mrs. Superhero and I have worked at minimizing the frequency with which we experience luxury in our lives. We know that once we become accustomed to luxuries it can be very hard to give them up. Once luxuries become the norm, it can become very difficult to grow wealth and develop a favorable financial outlook; raising the bar in this manner is “normal,” but it minimizes satisfaction and happiness while permanently raising one’s bottom line required spending. We aim to make luxurious experiences the exception, not the norm.

Third, we are diligent in taking excellent care of the nice possessions which we have prioritized over the years. We have found that we appreciate these items for their true value, utility, and contribution to our overall happiness simply because we exhibit pride in maintaining what we have worked and sacrificed to gain. For example, I marvel at the fine condition of my 2008 Honda Accord while driving to work each day. Instead of dwelling on the fact that it is nearly nine years old now,  I choose to take pride in its fine condition.

I often think that if we were resigned to a normal financial outlook, we would be far less mindful about these sort of things. In rejecting this kind of thinking, we choose to believe that there is a better way to live. It is a path lined with hard work, sacrifice, and self-control, but we firmly believe it is the best path toward happiness both in the present and in the future.


How do you define “normal” when it comes to money? Do you have a normal financial outlook? In what ways do you reject being “normal” on your path toward happiness both in the present and in retirement?

APIs Are Driving FinTech Innovation

Today’s post, “APIs Are Driving FinTech Innovation,” is sponsored by Misys, a leader in the area of financial software.

APIs are driving FinTech innovation

APIs are the backbone of modern communication methods; and the infrastructure used by developers to create user-friendly applications for smartphones, tablets, laptops and websites that access and link different content and services.

Are APIs the future?

APIs or Application Programming Interfaces aren’t necessarily a new concept as they have been used for some time to interconnect system components across varying sectors. However, previously most companies, such as banks or financial institutions would use closed API’s that were only available to add benefits to certain users. This served a purpose at the time, however the current climate has forced them to re-evaluate the use of API’s to ensure they are more flexible, adaptable and resourceful. The modern consumer now wants a service with APIs that provides access to all the data they need in one easy application, which has resulted in open APIs and API sharing, making services publicly available to anyone who wants to use them.

In the context of financial services, open APIs are allowing financial providers to give users public access to a wider range of data and create a better user experience in the process. For many, APIs are being tipped as game changers and will mould the future for financial software and financial services, working to drive innovation in FinTech companies as they strive to create new, customer-centric services and products.

An emerging economy

api-fintech

This wave of open APIs has created a whole new API Economy that wouldn’t be possible without the wave of open APIs and API sharing. Much of the emergence of the API Economy has been brought about by consumer apps across FinTech, availability of data from government and regulatory bodies, as well as independent companies and better cloud services, to name but a few.

And interestingly the finance and payment sectors currently have the highest number of APIs currently available in the market, which span across a wide range of different services. The main service sectors using finance APIs include payment gateways and processing; authentication and verification; payment acceptance; investing and lending; remittance; accounting and Bitcoin.

As a result, it is now becoming common practice for FinTech companies to use third party cloud-based services to host their services, which enables them to give users swift and simple access to relevant data as if it was being accessed from an on-site database, rather than a virtual cloud. This has meant that by collaborating with other FinTech partners and embracing new financial software capabilities for APIs means that FinTech companies are driving much more innovation. By combining concepts with open APIs across FinTech software, these companies are transforming the way users interact with their financial services. This results in a more user-focused product or service that adds greater value to the end user; and makes interconnecting different financial services seamless.

In turn, this collaborative approach amongst FinTech companies and banking institutions also fuels increased creativity and innovation with the products they develop, which will only work to grow the API Economy further and revolutionise the industry, while also improving the customer’s experience.

The power of payment processes

api-fintech-paymentSome of the cornerstones of API development are related to payment processes, allowing users to pay for a wide range of goods via smartphones. Traditionally if you were using a certain debit or credit card to make a purchase online from your phone for example, you would be required to input your card details, then wait for the merchant to contact your bank to authenticate the payment, which would then be processed in a number of hours, sometimes even days.

However, the latest innovations in FinTech API’s mean that all this information relating to payment processes are now readily available through shared APIs. MasterCard for instance, offer a number of APIs that allow users a variety of choices for payment, money transfers and e-commerce all geared towards making transactions as easy, secure and transparent as possible. While UK start-up GoCardless has created an API infrastructure that allow small businesses to set up their own direct debit payment system. This means they can receive direct debit payments without the need to pay credit card fees or set up a merchant account.

With a wide number of open APIs already currently available and in use by FinTechs and some banks, we are now entering an exciting period in financial advancement. With open APIs, FinTech companies should be better positioned to adapt to the ever-changing demands of consumers and no doubt change the financial sector landscape forever.


Readers, how have the latest FinTech trends impacted you?

Money Quotes – A Collection of Financial Knowledge

Even though my friends and family look to me as some sort of financial guru, I will be the first to admit that I don’t know very much about money. I know a little bit about a lot of financial topics, which makes me a solid non-expert.

Before I take further steps to squash my credibility as a financial blogger, allow me to state that I don’t think it is a bad thing to know a little bit about a lot of financial topics. Yet, there is a fine line between balance and mediocrity. When I read complex analyses regarding Keynesian economics, the Rule of 72, or building a Roth IRA conversion ladder, I feel like my work sometimes straddles this line more often than I would prefer.

In many ways, my approach to personal finance remains that of a simpleton: work hard, earn as much as I can, spend wisely, invest simply and consistently over time, and leave a legacy for my family. On the other hand, I feel it is time to up the ante a bit here at Finance Superhero and delve into some unfamiliar territory in the next months. After all, if this blog is truly going to “Restore Order to the World of Finance,” it cannot continue to neglect a discussion of some of the most important aspects of personal finance.

In order to take a broad look at money and stimulate critical thought as I embark on this direction for the blog, I have pulled together the following list of money quotes. They represent a wide array of ideas and theories about many aspects of money; some are old favorites, while others are money quotes which are new to me. At any rate, I hope they will provoke as much thought for you as they have for me.

Money Quotes

After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.   Aristotle Onassis

Where large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.  Agatha Christie

The safe way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it in your pocket.  Kin Hubbard

Men make counterfeit money; in many more cases, money makes counterfeit men. Sydney J. Harris

Greed is not a financial issue. It’s a heart issue.  Andy Stanley

A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.  Bob Hope

Wealth and want equally harden the human heart.  Theodore Parker

Money will buy a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail.  Josh Billings

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.  Henry Ford

I love to go to Washington – if only to be near my money.  Bob Hope

Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.  Warren Buffett

I try to treat all the money I’m making like it’s the last time I’m going to make it.  Eminem


What are your favorite money quotes?

Surprising Holiday Spending Trends in 2016

Every December 1, to the dismay of people who plan ahead, the average consumer is startled to realize that Christmas and Hanukkah are in December this year. These consumers quickly form an emergency plan to pay for their must-have gifts: Visa, Discover, and MasterCard to the rescue!

The warm fuzzies of the holiday season provide a perfect buffer against any feelings of remorse or regret over this spending at the time. Face it – it’s hard to feel bad about buying the family the latest curved 4K television when you’re drinking a gingerbread latte as Jose Feliciano belts Feliz Navidad over the mall sound system. Life continues to be good in the lead-up to New Years Eve, but at midnight, as The Ball drops in Times Square, the proverbial ball drops in your stomach, too. You stop and think – I spent HOW MUCH on the holidays?

2016 looks to be a record-setting year for holiday spending. Consider these factors before your plan and complete your holiday shopping.

Average Holiday Spending

A recent survey by the Rubicon Project revealed that Americans plan to spend an average of $1,175 this holiday season. This is a 12% spike over last year’s figure.  Average spending per child, for families with children, is expected to be $495. Rubicon also reports that the largest areas of spending are projected to be technology and experiential gifts.

In the absence of an unlikely 12% increase in income, such an increase in spending is alarming. The Consumer Confidence Index increased in September 2016, but this hardly seems like a good reason to drop what would be the equivalent of a mortgage payment for many families on food, decorations, and gifts.

So what gives?

Spend Early, Spend Often

As a child, I remember sitting around with my cousins on Thanksgiving and poring over toy catalogs. I circled items which I wanted on my wish list, and Mom took care of the rest. The next day, before Black Friday was a great day to get assaulted at the local Wal-Mart, Mom went shopping with my aunts and grandma.

Today, Mom would be accused of child abuse by many people for having failed to secure my Christmas gifts prior to December 1. Increasingly, more and more people are beginning and completing their holiday shopping far in advance of the holiday season.

A recent Forbes article features an interview with a millennial which illustrates this trend.

Erin Dunphy, 25, started her holiday shopping this summer. She says it’s better for her wallet, and starting early better accommodates her work schedule.

“It really helps to spread out the spending that I want to do and really start to look at the things or experiences I want to give to others,” says Erin. “Also, August through February is my busiest time at work. So I make sure I try to cross things off my list early in the process.”

Erin also uses shopping early as a way to stick to a budget. She puts away money for the holidays well in advance, which guarantees she isn’t draining her bank account as the holidays approach. It also spaces out her spending, and ensures she’s not paying sizeable holiday markups on her purchases.

“I start saving early so I have a little stash that I know is for others. Buying now means if something goes wrong, I can pay for it all and not feel like I have to choose between [buying] presents or fixing my car if it were to break,” she says.

While it is easy to appreciate the ambition and mindset of goal setters like Dunphy, starting early can have its drawbacks, too. In the absence of discipline, it can be easy to tack on last-minute gifts for the people on your shopping list, especially as retailers slash prices in the final days leading up to December 25.

Starting early may seem very smart, but there is a reason that the spiders, pumpkins and cobwebs come down on November 1 only to be quickly replaced by Christmas trees, white lights, and tinsel:

Retailers look to gain an edge by measuring early shopping trends and adjusting pricing and marketing plans accordingly to maximize their profits.

Often retailers seek to build customer loyalty by providing incentives for your early purchases. After all, if you shopped early for that pair of Beats by Dre headphones for your son, you may be willing to come back for the latest FitBit for your wife, especially if you have a coupon.

‘Tis the Season to be Thrifty

Does this mean you shouldn’t shop early? Maybe, maybe not. It means you should know the market value of the items on your shopping list, do your research, and aim to pay the lowest possible price for those items.

It goes without saying that you should allow your budget to dictate the items on your list, not the other way around. If you’re prone to the temptation to overspend, leave your credit and debit cards at home and carry cash safely in your front pocket. Spend only what you must, not what you can. Don’t allow legalism or petty family traditions to lead you into spending set amounts; spend what you feel is best. Chances are good that your family will appreciate the gesture regardless of how much you spend.

During our marriage, my wife and I have never failed to create a unique budget for our holiday spending. By putting our plan in writing, we have managed to avoid a great of overspending. We haven’t been perfect, as we’ve splurged a bit on each other and certain family members over the years. Yet talking about a plan, writing it down, and acting upon it has helped us to ensure that we don’t engage in reckless holiday spending at the expense of our other financial goals. We know we will never have to sit back in a destitute life of retirement and think, “Well, at least we had good Christmases. . . ”

The holidays have become a vast showcase for American excess over the past several decades, but participation in the game is optional. Stuff may make you happy, but a life of excess is not likely to lead to a life of happiness and lasting fulfillment.


Will your projected holiday spending align with expected holiday spending trends in 2016? How do you plan for your holiday spending?

 

 

 

How Much Money Do You Need To Be Rich?

Ask the average American on the street if they are in favor of raising taxes on “the rich,” and invariably, you’ll receive a “yes” answer. They will cite tax loopholes, fairness concerns, greed of the wealth, a stalled economy, and virtually any other reason to make their case. Of course the rich should pay more in taxes. Wealth is evil and should be punished!

The problem is that no two people are likely to agree with a definition of “rich.” Ask an attorney if he is rich, and he will likely say “no.” Ask the same question of a surgeon, and she will answer in kind. But to a city bus driver, the attorney and the surgeon are rich beyond imagination. And to  the widowed mother of three children who works at the local diner, the bus driver is surely living a lavish life!

According to the Washington Post, a Pew Research Center Poll revealed that 54 percent of Americans favor raising taxes on the rich to expand programs for the poor. The problem is that fewer and fewer Americans are able to identify whether they are rich; they think a “rich” person is someone who earns more money than they do.

Side note: I once heard a joke that the ticket to becoming rich is earning more money than your brother-in-law!

The Washington Post provides further intriguing data on the matter straight from the minds of Americans:

According to a 2013 Washington Post survey, people who live in households making less than $50,000 say that an income of $200,000 would make you rich, while people with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 say you’d need $260,000 to be rich. And people making over $100,000 say they wouldn’t feel rich unless they were making a cool half a million dollars a year — or more.

A majority of people desire to be rich, but what exactly does "rich" mean? Is the key to becoming rich tied to income, assets, and possessions?

THE GREAT DIVIDE

Americans are clearly divided on this issue, and perhaps for good reason. After all, a number of factors are at play in the “how much is really rich” discussion, including family size, location, expenses, level of consumer debt obligations, amount of savings and investments, and so on.

Yet the United States tax code is calculated and cold when it comes to many of the aforementioned factors. Barring unforeseen variances, a married couple earning $50,000 will still pay the same amount of federal taxes in Manhattan as they would in rural Tennessee. The primary difference is they might feel rich living in Tennessee. 

So is “richness” forever destined to be defined in an ambiguous, subjective manner?

THE GRAND CONFUSION

I vividly recall a family discussion from my childhood regarding the supposed “riches” of a distant family friend. One family member reasoned that this friend, a respected businessman, must be rich due to his sizable income. Another member of the family supported her hypothesis by citing the friend’s large home on the lake, fleet of luxury vehicles, and designer wardrobe.

As I child, I simply nodded my head in agreement and wonder. As an adult, I see the truth.

Income, no matter how high, does not make a person rich. Possessions, no matter how numerous and luxurious, do not make a person rich.

Consider two fictitious people. We’ll call them Charles and Leonard. Chuck earns $100,000 per year, and Lenny earns $150,000. Lenny may appear to be the richer of the two, but his 6 bedroom home, BMW, and multi-millionaire lifestyle comprised of weekend trips to the casino and multiple rounds for the entire bar are sucking him dry. Meanwhile, boring Charlie spends only $45,000 per year, lives in a modest town home, and drives a Toyota Corolla. Now who is rich?

Sadly, most Americans have defined richness in a backwards manner. We put Lenny on a glorified pedestal and lament Chuck’s evident misfortune. In doing so, we have it all wrong.

As Paula Pant is famous for stating, you can afford anything, but not everything. Being rich doesn’t mean having all the things. It means having money and freedom to buy all the things. Richness is not all about how much money you earn; it is about how much you keep. Richness is not all about how much you spend; it is about how you spend it.

HOW TO BE RICH AT ANY INCOME

This isn’t the first piece written about how much money it takes to be rich, and it won’t be the last. But this will be one of the few articles which rejects stating solid income and asset amounts as a threshold for being rich. The simple reason?

I believe anyone can be rich at any income.

At the end of the day, the only person who determines whether you are rich is you. Others can point, gossip, sneer, and conjecture all they wish, but it will only impact you if you allow it.

If you want to be rich, regardless of your income, it’s up to you to set about changing your mindset and actions. Most “rich” people have mastered the act, and you can learn from them.

1. Stop caring what other people think of you

If you care what other people think of you, you will have a difficult time becoming or even feeling rich. A desire to impress others is a sure fire path to financial mediocrity. Be a kind, caring person to the best of your ability, but don’t allow others’ feelings to impact your finances.

2. Think more about what you have and less about what you lack

Are you a glass half-empty or glass half-full person? I aim to be neither. Though it is hard, I try to navigate my life by a “full glass” mindset. Even a glass half-full mindset leaves you wanting more. And the trouble is that even when you do get more, the glass perpetually remains half full. Learn to practice gratitude for what you do possess.

3. Know your most precious asset

Ask the world’s billionaires to pick one asset which they covet most, and I believe most would say “time.” In a world of great inequality, time is the great equalizer. Use time well and you can make a lasting impact; waste time, and it is gone forever.

Most people would benefit from the eye-opening experience of charting their time in fifteen minute blocks for an entire week. I have done so for a few days in the past, and the results were humbling. The ways you choose to spend your time indicate what is most important to you.

By building habits, routines, and structures into your daily life, it is possible to unlock the full potential of the time which is available to you.

4. Save first, spend what is left

While the first three action steps reside in your psyche, the final step is as practical as they come: rather than spending first and saving whatever money is left, save first and allow yourself to only spend what remains. This is a sure fire way to grow the gap between the two most important numbers for financial success: your net income and your net expenses.

THE HEART OF THE ISSUE

French designer Coco Chanel said, “There are people who have money and there are people who are rich.” According to Benjamin Franklin, “Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.” These two anecdotes strike a powerful chord. They speak to the power of the human mind and spirit. Ultimately, it is up to individual to change her mindset and take action to build a rich life.


What does it mean to be “rich” in today’s world? How do you define it?